The Japanese New Year (New Year Shogatsu) is an annual festival with its own customs. Since 1873, the official Japanese New Year has been celebrated according to the Gregorian calendar, on January 1 of each year, New Year’s Day (Ganjitsu). However, many traditional events of the Japanese New Year are still celebrated on the first day of the year on the modern Tenpo calendar, the last official lunisolar calendar which was used until 1872 in Japan. January 1 is the only official national holiday, but most companies will be off until the 4th.
New Year Shogatsu
The Japanese New Year had been based on Japanese versions of lunisolar calendar (the last of which was the Tenpo calendar) and, prior to Jōkyō calendar, the Chinese versions. On New Year’s eve, toshikoshi soba (buckwheat noodles), symbolizing longevity, are served. A more recent custom is watching the music show “kohaku uta gassen”. A highly populartelevision program featuring many of Japan’s most famous J-pop and enka singers in spectacular performances.
January 1 is a very auspicious day, best started by viewing the new year’s first sunrise (hatsu-hinode), and traditionally believed to be representative for the whole year that has just commenced. Therefore, the day is supposed be full of joy and free of stress and anger, while everything should be clean and no work should be done. It is a tradition to visit a shrine or temple during shogatsu (hatsumode). The most popular temples and shrines, such as Tokyo’s Meiji Shrine, attract several million people during the three days.
Most impressive are such visits at the actual turn of the year, when large temple bells are rung at midnight. At midnight on December 31, Buddhist temples all over Japan ring their bells a total of 108 times (Joyanokane of the night bell) to symbolize the 108 human sins in Buddhist belief, and to get rid of the 108 worldly desires regarding sense and feeling in every Japanese citizen. A major attraction is The Watched Night bell, in Tokyo. Japanese believe that the ringing of bells can rid their sins during the previous year. The bell is rung 107 times on 31st and once past midnight.
It is also very common to eat buckwheat noodles called toshikoshi soba on the New Year’s Eve. A traditionally ornamented Kagami mochi Kagami mochi (mirror rice cake), is a traditional Japanese New Year decoration. It usually consists of two round mochi (rice cakes). The smaller placed atop the larger, and a daidai (a Japanese bitter orange) with an attached leaf on top. In addition, it may have a sheet of konbu and a skewer of dried persimmons under the mochi. It sits on a stand called a sanpo over a sheet called a shihobeni. That is supposed to ward off fires from the house for the following years. Sheets of paper called gohei folded into lightning shapes similar to those seen on sumo wrestler’s belts are also attached.
The Kagami Mochi or mirror rice cakes. There is a smaller mochi cake sitting on top of a larger mochi cake with a bitter orange (daidai) with leaf attached that sits on top of that. The two mochi represent the past year and the new year while the fruit represents generations of the family. Together it represents the continuity of one generation to the next. On the second weekend of the new year the mochi are broken, cooked and eaten. The daidai are often plastic and the mochi plastic wrapped as in this photo.
January New Year: Japanese people eat a selection of dishes during the New Year celebration called osechi-ryori (Fuyunodori dish or okonomi), typically shortened to osechi. Many of these dishes are sweet, sour, or dried. So they can keep without refrigeration. The culinary traditions date to a time before households had refrigerators, when most stores closed for the holidays.