Japanese New Year
The Japanese new year has to be experienced to be believed... the sights, the colours, the sounds and the people all make this the biggest of Japan's festivals.
New Year's Eve is the biggest celebration in the year in japan. Before the New Year comes, people clean their houses and decorate gates or doors with pine branches and sacred ropes so that they can start the year afresh. Although the holiday is from Dec 29th to Jan 3rd, in city areas, most bigger shops only close for a day or two. Public transport is overwhelmed at this time, packed to double capacity as people go to their birthplaces, hotels, resorts and so on.
Nengajoo - New Year Cards
Rather than the Christmas card tradition, Nengajoo are sent towards the end of the year. The post office holds them and they are all delivered as close as possible to January 1st. Nengajoo look like postcards and usually have pictures of the new Chinese animal year such as dragon or monkey or horse. Years ago these cards were formal greetings in your best handwriting but modern cards can have pictures, special photographs from the year, stickers, stamps and so on and can be written more informally either vertically or horizontally.
New Year parties are a huge part of the celebrations and are held for the office, local areas, clubs, friends and any other group you can think of. The name of these parties means to 'forget bad things in a year'. Games are played and everyone, adult and child alike, enjoys themselves.
New Year's Eve
Visits to shrines and temples are still common even in modern times and the most popular locations are packed with people trying to buy white arrows for luck and get their special good luck fortune. Trains run throughout the night and people dress both in western clothes and kimonos to celebrate. Television stations film the most popular places and these are shown throughout the night for those who can't get there and also the next day.
At midnight, the temple bell is struck 108 times to rid people of all of the 108 worldly sins for the year.
New Year's Day
On the first couple of days of the New Year, those who could not get there before go to shrines to pray for good health and luck and many also visit friends and family. As they meet people for the first time that year, the greeting 'Akemashite omedetoo gozaimasu. Kotoshi mo yoroshiku onegaishimasu.', or a variation on it, can be heard all around. This congratulates the person on the New Year and expresses a wish that their relationship continues to be a good one.
Children play card games or use colourful battledores to hit a shuttlecock while adults read their cards and enjoy the break from work.
New Year Food
Special dishes eaten at New Year are called 'sechiryoori' and consist of cold items such as pickles, beans, vegetables and fruit arranged in lacquer or plastic boxes. This food is traditionally prepared before New Year and kept so that, for three days after New year, no one in the family has to cook. In reality, few people manage cold food for three days in the middle of winter and the food often doesn't last three days anyway.
Another common food is 'mochi', which is pounded rice. Mochi used to be done by hand and, prior to New Year, the television shows celebrities with big wooden mallets, pounding the rice into a thick dough-like substance. This glutenous mix is made into cakes which can be fried, have sweet bean curd put inside them or be put into a soup. Every year, at least one person chokes on mochi!
Many of the New Year foods are long and thin so that you can encourage a long and healthy life.
Children receive monetary gifts at New Year in a special decorated envelope. This is called 'otoshidama' and the total from family and friends can add up to a significant amount. When the shops open again, queues of people line the streets to get the amazing bargains of this special time and to spend the money they have received.
Back to work
From January 3rd, people begin returning to work and the chaos and fun of New Year is over again.