The Japanese New Year celebration that you must experience once in a lifetime!

Japan, New Year, Celebration

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While Chinese celebrates Chinese New Year based on Lunar Calendar, Japanese celebrates New Year following the Gregorian Calendar, i.e. on January 1. Somewhat similar to Chinese New Year’s customs, Japanese, too, stay up late on the New Year’s  eve, give out angpao and have reunion dinner for the New Year. Other than these, what do Japanese do on their New Year?


Reunion Dinner

As opposed to the busy preparation of the reunion grand feast with elaborated dishes among the Chinese, Japanese housewives are given rest days for 3 days before the New Year as a token of appreciating their year-long effort taking care of the family. But wait, what are they supposed to eat for New Year’s eve then? Turns out, Japanese housewives usually prepare the food ahead and keep them in the fridge until the reunion meal.

Osechi Ryori are the traditional foods enjoyed on New Year’s day in Japan. They come in an assortment of colorful dishes packed together in special boxes called jubako, which resemble bento boxes. If you think “bento box” means something simple, wait till you see the dishes in the jubako box. Each and every dish have their own significance. For example, a well-cooked prawn is bent like an old man, signifying longevity; Black bean in Japanese pronunciation is similar to the meaning of hardworking, thus signifying achievement; Fish roe signifies blessings of abundance offspring; Kelp (Kombu) sounds similar to “yorokobu” – to be happy and glad, signifying happiness; Egg roll shapes like the book roll in the olden times, signifying wisdom, etc. Even though most dishes are served cold, every single dish is prepared and arranged meticulously in the jubako box!


Hatsumode, first shrine visit

Hatsumōde is the first Shinto shrine visit of the Japanese New Year. Wishes for the new year are made, new omamori (charms or amulets) are bought, and the old ones are returned to the shrine so they can be burned. Omamori may provide general blessings and protection, or may have a specific focus such as: avoidance of evil, acquisition of a mate and marriage, better fortune, etc. There are often long lines at major shrines throughout Japan.



See hatsuhinode, the first sunrise

‘Nippon’ means “the sun’s origin” and is often translated as the Land of the Rising Sun.  Japanese believe that Toshigami, a god bringing good luck, appeared with the first sunrise of the year. Therefore, Jan 1 is the day that Japanese want to wake up early to start the new year with hatsuhinode. One of the most popular spot to watch the first sunrise is Mount Takao. Mount Takao is accessible by cable car, lift and foot on all day and night between December 31 to Jan 1. The observatories on the peak of the mountain is usually packed with crowds awaiting the first sunrise. Other than the mountain peak, the younger generations nowadays watch the first sunrise from obervatories at Tokyo Sky Tree and Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building too.


Hatsuyume – the first dream in New Year

This superstition is well known in Japan, often memorized in the form Ichi-Fuji, Ni-Taka, San-Nasubi (一富士、二鷹、三茄子; 1. Fuji, 2. Hawk, 3. Eggplant). In Japan, the night of December 31 was often passed without sleeping, thus the hatsuyume was often the dream seen the night of January 1. Japanese believe that  the contents of the dream would foretell the luck of the dreamer in the ensuing year. It is considered to be particularly good luck to dream of Mount Fuji, a hawk, and an eggplant in Hatsuyume. Some would even draw the combination list and put in under their pillow in hope of getting good dream. And if they happen to have a nightmare, the drawing is put away in the river to carry all the bad luck away with the water.


Other than these, there are many other Japanese New Year customs such as eating rice cakes (a different variation of rice cakes from chinese), watching lion dance performance and playing traditional games. If you are keen to find out more, why not take the opportunity to travel to Japan during the new year times?


For more reading about Japanese New Year celebration:
The Japanese way of celebrating new year countdown – Eating Buckwheat Noodles


Translated from: 这辈子一定要体验一次的日本新年习俗!转个好运带回国!

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