Happy New Years everyone! I hope you all had a safe night of celebrations 🙂 My night was fairly quiet and was mostly spent under the kotatsu (Japanese low table with built in heater and blanket and my saviour for the past two weeks) watching great Japanese TV and eating mountains of sushi and crab. Yes I know that might sound boring to you but there’s not much else you feel like doing when it’s zero degrees outside! Although I did have a quick trip with family to the local onsen (Japanese hot-spring) – its the best when you sit in the steaming outdoor spa while snow falls around you.
In Japan, New Years Day is the major holiday, rather than Christmas (Christmas Day isn’t even a public holiday in Japan). I really like the traditions Japan has kept when approaching the beginning of a new year. There is a lot of symbolism which is usually associated with food.
New Years Eve – Oomisoka (大晦日）
Oomisoka, what the Japanese called New Years Eve, is a day which is traditionally spent cleaning the family household in order to welcome the New Year. This big clean is called oosouji (大掃除). Preparations for New Years Day food or osechi-ryouri are also done on this day because it is considered unlucky for food to be prepared on the first couple of days of the New Year. This food isn’t something you can order in a local Japanese restaurants – it’s prepackaged so that it can be left in the cold for a few days without going off. Osechi usually includes black beans, fish cakes, specially prepared fish, herring roe and chestnuts, just to name a few. You can usually buy pre-prepared osechi boxes at the supermarket, or you can buy the indiviual components and prepare it yourself in your own box. These are some of the pictures from the Osechi I prepared with my cousin yesterday 🙂
The typical food to eat on New Years Eve is toshikoshi-soba or ‘Year ending’ soba noodles. These noodles signify a number of beliefs:
1. The physically long noodles symbolise longevity and good luck.
2. Soba noodles are easy to bite symbolising that the problems from the past year are easy to forget.
In the final hours of the year, many people go to the temple to listen to jyoya no kane – the bell which rings 108 times with the 108th ring on midnight. In Buddhism, it is believed that humans possess 108 worldly desires and it is this bell ringing that rids us of these as we enter the new year. The number 108 comes from the five senses and the mind. These 6 aspects can be broken down into 3 feelings of good, bad and neutral which can then be broken into 2 conditions: pure and dirty. Finally these conditions can then be broken into 3 timelines: past, present and future. So 6 x 3 x 2 x 3 = 108!
Another tradition is to send out nengajyo or New Years greeting cards. Similar to how in the West we send out Christmas cards, the Japanese send out New Years postcards. What I found out today was that each card contains a special number which is an entry to a national lottery where you can win holidays, electric goods and gift vouchers!
New Years Day – Oshogatsu (お正月）
On January 1st, Japanese families relax and eat their osechi-ryori from the morning. Many people who didn’t go to the temple on New Years Eve may visit over the next few days. This activity is called hatsumode. Prayers for the new year are made and omikuji (see my post Asakusa Senso-ji and Amazing Soba) are bought.
Although it’s a public holiday, shopping centres are open and many clothes stores start selling fukubukuro which is a bag full of a variety of clothes (you can’t see what’s inside) usually priced at ￥10,000.
Here are some pictures of my hatsumode. And for the record, my omikuji wasn’t ‘bad fortune’, it was ‘regular fortune’ so I’m happy 🙂