New Year is the most important day in Japan, celebrated with time off of work, family reunions, and traditional rituals.
Big Cleaning (Oosouji) Oosouji is a tradition practiced by the Japanese, literally meaning “Big Cleaning,” and that is exactly what takes place before New Year’s Eve as a way of welcoming the incoming year. Normally the whole household contributes to the cleaning together, cleaning things not normally done during the year for general weekly or daily cleaning - thorough cleaning of your home. To the Japanese, each New Year provides a fresh start, and it is bad luck to bring “old business” into New Year, so all duties are supposed to be completed by the end of the year – bills must be paid, arguments must be settled, clothes must be washed, and the house must be cleaned. The cleaning of the physical environment promotes mental “cleaning”, and Oosouji is a time to get mentally organized, bring things to a close or get rid of them.
New Year’s Eve Noodles (Toshikoshi Soba
Toshikoshi Soba is a special Japanese noodle dish that the people eat on New Year's Eve as a tradition. Soba is a kind of Japanese noodles made from buckwheat, which are commonly eaten both at home and at restaurants. There are some reasons to eat soba noodles on that day. One is a kind of way to say goodbye to all the bad things that happened in the year and to welcome the New Year. The second reason is that soba is said to be a symbol of a long life. Also, since buckwheat is able to grow in severe weather, people hope to be strong and healthy by eating it.
First Shrine/Temple Visit (Hatsumode)
Hatsumode, this particular tradition celebrates the first shrine or temple visit of the year. January 1st is the most typical time to go, but since this day is often crowded, some families choose to go on the 2nd or 3rd. The most popular shrines will be decorated festively. They have food stands and Japanese festival games set up lining the pathway to the temple, and lucky charms (Omamori) for sale that are engraved with prayers for a fortunate year to come. Traditionally, visitors will bring their Omamori from the previous year as well, and discard of them in a bucket or box at the shrine or temple. During Hatsumode, visitors make wishes and prayers for the year and buy lucky charms (Omamori). In addition to this, many visitors draw a piece of paper called “Omikuji” in order to predict their fortune for the future. Omikuji shows your overall fortune for the future with the rank, either one of “excellent luck”, “general luck”, “middle luck”, “small luck”, or “bad luck”. If you draw excellent luck, a fantastic experience may be waiting for you, but even if you, unfortunately, draw bad luck, don’t be discouraged. Omikuji always explains how to improve your fortune. At Rokuharamitsu-ji' temple in Kyoto, Obukucha is served on New Year day to the people with a plum and sea kelp.
Traditional New Year Foods (Osechi Ryori)
The Japanese celebrate the New Year day with traditional New Year foods called Osechi Ryori. They come in an assortment of colorful dishes packed together in special boxes. Every dish of these traditional foods has special meaning in welcoming the New Year.
Traditional New Year Toys and Games
There are some traditional Japanese Toys and Games that children play for the New Year.
New Year's Money for Children (Otoshidama)
Otoshidama is a Japanese custom in which adults give children money over the New
Year’s holiday. Bills are folded into three sections and put into small envelopes, then handed to the children of close friends and relatives. The meaning of giving Otoshidama to children is to give some appreciation to them and give them some new hopes for the New Year. Their parents also teach them to save money for the time they want to use it for something in the future.
There are more Japanese New Year traditions that weren't even mentioned in this article, but we hope this gave some insight into some of them.
We wish you all a very Happy New Year.