Saturday, 31 December 2011

New Years

Hello Happy New Years everyone~.

Well, it's New Years Eve where I am at the moment. I think some countries like America are one day behind from this place so this may be a bit early for some people? Who knows.

Anyway, I hope you had a good 2011 and will have an even better 2012!

I was asked to do a post about some Japanese traditions for New Years. It's probably a good idea considering how different it is to Western countries (?). lol Anyway, there are many things about how Japanese people celebrate the New Years that you may find interesting.


This is what 'New Years' is called in Japanese. Oshogatsu is probably considered the most important day of the calendar in Japan, and has been celebrated by the people for centuries. Typically, people all return to their hometown or to the eldest family member's house to celebrate the occasion with the whole family. Although this was much easier in the past as most people lived in the same town, most young people nowadays move to work in the big cities making it a bit more difficult for them to all return at the same time. Unfortunately.

It's kind of similar to the Western celebration of Christmas how all the uncles, aunties, cousin's etc all eat dinner together. Although Christmas is also a big thing in Japan, it's mainly the commercial side involving presents and parties with friends rather than celebrating Christian customs. It's also seen more as an occasion for young couples to have a romantic evening rather than a jolly family gathering.

So we now know what kind of celebration it is, what do they eat on Oshougatsu?

There are several foods that are traditionally eaten on New Years. On New Years Eve, the family will gather to have a feast of various foods, and then will finish it off with 'Osechi' 御節. Osechi refer to an assortment traditional kinds of foods, and are decorated in a kind of bento lunch box. Each type of cooking has a various meaning, which I won't go into as it's too long. Conveniently, Wikipedia has a page to explain it HERE. From my experience, it looks impressive and amazing, but doesn't taste good......

Omochi is a rice cake eaten around this period. This eaten in various ways, most commonly with soy sauce, anko (red bean paste) or kinako (mixed with sugar), which is a very healthy powder made from soybean. On New Years Day, it is tradition to eat 'Ozouni', which is a warm soup that has omochi inside. Other ingredients that feature in this dish vary depending on the region of Japan but generally have things like fishballs and vegetables. By the way this was my favourite food when I was a little kid. My grandparents would send it over and I'd have it for breakfast all the time.....   

Top left: With kinako , Top Right: with Anko
Bottom left: Ozouni,   Bottom right: Cooking omochi.

Omochi is traditionally made by hammering sticky rice inside this wooden bucket thing.
Although this is still done, it's more often made using rice cookers that have that kind of capability
or just bought from shops. There is a funny little story told in Japan about rabbits making omochi on the moon, as there is a pattern on the moon that is in the shape of a rabbits face. Check the moon and see if you can find it sometime~

This is probably the best part of New Years if you are a child....but the worst if you're an adult. Traditionally, money is given to youngsters by adult relatives and friends. The amount of money depends on your age and how generous/rich the person giving money is but it can often be about 10,000 yen (about $100) from each person if you're in your teens. Sounds pretty awesome, and it is indeed awesome if you ask me. Only if you're young though. Thankfully I was the youngest person in my family (not distant relatives), and it is only recently that one of my cousins had a child. He's only about 2 or 3 so I only need to give him a tiny amount, or maybe even nothing. At least for now anyway.... and that's only when I go to Japan over New Years.

Otoshidama are given in envelopes. The one of the left is the standard type. However, there are also many nicely decorated ones as well, which are mainly given to children.
People go and visit temples and shrines on New Years day to make a wish and pray for good luck in the coming year. This is called 'hatsumoude' (first temple visit) and many people also wait in huge lines on New Years Eve so that they can be there at 12:00 at midnight. When the clock hits 12:00, the Buddhist temples ring their bells 108 times. According to Buddhist beliefs, there are 108 sins that humans can make, and so by ringing the bell it is supposed to get rid of each sin from the bodies of the Japanese citizens. It can get absolutely PACKED with people at this time, it's quite crazy to be honest.

Some people like to dress up in pretty kimono for this occasion (mainly on New Years Day, not Eve) which is nice to see. At both shrines and temples, people often purchase an 'omikuji', which is a paper slip foretelling your luck regarding various aspects of life for the year such as health, social relationships, business, schooling etc. There are different ranks for how much luck these slips foretell, ranging from Daikyo (Great curse) to Daikichi (Great fortune). Again, this can get long so you can check good old Wikipedia :)  

If you get an unlucky omikuji, you can tie it onto a tree or a designated frame inside the temple/shrine grounds and hope that it doesn't turn out that way. However, you can buy omikuji as many times as you want (and they only cost 100 yen) so some people keep buying them until they get one that they like. Which is makes the whole thing kinda pointless.

There are many traditional games that kids play at this time. One is a card game called 'karuta'. It's a game similar to the Western card game 'Snap', in that you must grab certain cards quicker than other people. This is played with several contestants and one card reader. The card reader reads a card that gives a clue as to what card must be looked for, and players search for it among the pile of cards that are laid out on the floor before them. So you see lots of hands flying around, slapping other peoples hands etc. There are various versions of these games. Small kids usually use karuta with hiragana or katakana letters on them, with the hint being a sentence that starts with that letter. They sell various themed ones too like karuta with 'Ultraman' or Dragon Ball. 

More advanced (and more traditional) ones are karuta with famous poetry from the 'hyakunin-isshu' on them. The card reader reads the first half of the poem and contestants search for the card with the rest of the passage. More info. They make you learn these poems at school and even have haykunin isshu karuta competitions once a year too.....

Other games are played on New Years day such as 'tako-age' (kite flying), koma (spinning tops) and sugoroku, which can either be a simple board game like Snakes and Ladders or Backgammon. Another game played is 'hanetsuki'. Hanetsuki is a game somewhat similar to badminton as it uses a shuttlecock and two players with rackets. The rackets for this game however, are small rectangular wooden plank type things. The aim of the game is to keep it in the air as long as possible by hitting it to each other with the racket. The fun part is when someone misses it though, as you get to draw on their face with black ink. A strange belief, which is obviously not that important now regarding this game is that the amount of time you are able to keep the shuttlecock off the group is supposed to reflect how much you'll be safe from being bitten by mosquitoes in the coming year.....

Currently battling it out for immunity against Mosquitoes.

Japanese people also take note of the first occurrence of various events of the year. One example was already mentioned before with 'hatsumoude' (first temple visit). There are many other 'hatsu' somethings that are given attention such as 'hatsuyume' which is your first dream of the year. Supposedly, this also supposed to foretell your luck for the new year.  It is considered especially lucky if you dream of Mt. Fuji, a hawk eggplant. Not exactly sure why though.

Other 'hatsu' things celebrated include the first sunrise, 'hatsuhinode' and first tea ceremony, 'hatsugama' (not that important now though...) and all kinds of other things...... 

Well I hopefully you learned a little bit about what New Years is like in Japan. Of course there are more things to it, and I could have gone into more detail for some of the things that I mentioned but writing takes a pretty long time lol. This post was more interesting to write about then I was expecting though. It made me remember some nice memories of things that I had forgotten was good :)

Anyway, once again, I hope you have had an excellent year in 2011, and a superb 2012.

Maybe you should stare at a picture of Mt. Fuji for ages or eat heaps of eggplants for dinner so that you'll have dream about them.?

I'll try to make this blog better and more entertaining for all of you in 2012, so please stay loyal and check it out once in a while~




  1. Thank you!
    I wanted to research oshougatsu and the traditions later, but you brought me exactly what I was looking for!

    Let's make 2012 a crazily good one :)
    Good luck!

  2. Happy New Year Godzilla Radio!
    Have a peaceful and successful new year!

    I wish I ate at least eggplants today since I starved all the day...

    By the way, just for the fun, did some Japanese people believe that 2012 was the end of the world? lol

  3. Thanks, it was really interesting. I really want to try the omochi sometime. It looks delicious.
    For the western new years, basically (I'm pretty sure) that most families get together and stay up for the new years, which I think is kind of boring. Right now, it's new years eve.
    But Japan's new year's is similar to Chinese New Year. We give money too, in red envelopes,. It's mainly the people who are married that gives it to kids/teens/young adults. And since Chinese New Year lasts for 1-2 weeks, there are different dishes, the soup during that time of year is the best (but on the western calender, Chinese New Year is usually on late January to early February. If you read this, thanks for reading me rant about it.
    Hope you have a good new years and I will continue to watch your blog~. Thanks again.

  4. Xia: Ahh that's good, I'm glad this post was useful for you. Happy New Years~

    Tako:Thank you Happy New Years to you too. Well I suppose some people may believe it. It's pretty well known over there too but they just treat it like an interesting rumour type thing as well lol

    rjoker: Haha don't worry, you can rant all you want here. Yeah, I sort of assumed that it might be similar to Chinese customs (a lot of things are borrowed from China). Wow 1~2weeks? How does that work? Well, I hope you have a good year too~!

  5. hwaaaa... very complete explanation!!! thx

  6. Fun to read! And very helpfull for the task i got from my Japanese teacher about finding information on oshougatsu :-) thanks alot!