AKAL Japanese Academy has successfully conducted an online workshop wherein participants were taught the best ways to celebrate New Year in Japan. With over 30 students joining the workshop, dedicated teachers, and Japanese culture experts, taught the students how to celebrate New Year 2022 in the most traditional, fun and memorable way by informing them where to visit and what cuisines and decorations to make to experience New Year as the Japanese do.
From the significance of pine tree decorations in the Japanese New Year tradition to which temples to visit, all participants began their new year with fulfilled knowledge about what the Japanese do to celebrate New Year. Here, we have listed all the things taught at the workshop in case you want to experience your own Japanese New Year celebrations and traditions.
But before we go into details, we, at AKAL, would like to take a quick moment to wish you and your loved ones a very happy New Year. Here’s to health, happiness, and prosperity in 2022! Akemashite omedetō! (あけましておめでとう!).
Now, on to the topic at hand. Here is a list of Japan New Year traditions that were taught to the students during the workshop that we hope you might enjoy too.
- Osoji: While other countries opt for spring cleaning, wherein people clean their houses and surroundings thoroughly, the Japanese prefer to do this during the New Year’s holidays, even though technically it should be done on the 13th of December. The Japanese carry out this year-end big cleaning to get rid of the dirt to invite deities into their home. You could either do it in December or the beginning of January.
- Kadomatsu: Kadomatsu are pine tree decorations made with bamboo that the Japanese put in pairs in front of their houses during the New Year to welcome toshigami, who is believed to be the god of the harvest. These Japanese New Year decorations should be placed at least until January 7th.
- Shimekazari/Shimenawa: Shimenawa, which are made of rice straw or hemp, are hung above the entryway of houses during the New Year as it symbolises prosperity and good luck. They can also be seen in Shinto shrines as they are believed to have the power to ward off evil spirits.
- Kagami mochi: Yet another Japanese New Year Tradition, kagami mochi is a dessert consisting of two round mochi with the smaller piece sitting atop the bigger piece and daidai, a bitter orange, being placed on the top. Shihōbeni, a sheet of paper, is used as the base. This dessert cum decoration is then placed in the main entrance or inside one’s home as an offering to Toshigami, who in turn will bring good luck.
- Toshikoshi Soba: Eating soba noodles on New Year’s Eve in Japan symbolises breaking off the old year as the noodles easily break when eating. Moreover, the long and thin shape of these Buckwheat Noodles also represents long life and longevity.
- Joya no kane: Every New Year’s Eve, there is an event called Joya no kane wherein all across Japan temples would ring their bells 108 times to remove unwanted feelings such as anger, desire, obsession, etc that has to do with Buddhism teachings and beliefs. The bell would start ringing before midnight and stop when the clock strikes 12 in New Year.
- Hatsuhinode: Hatsuhinode is one of the many New Year customs in Japan where people would marvel at the first sunrise of the year. While some do it for fun and memories, for others it has a religious meaning behind this tradition.
- Osechi Ryori: Osechi Ryori is a traditional Japanese New Year food. It is considered to be an important meal as each food item has special meanings. For instance, black beans represent health while Tazukuri (sardines boiled in soy sauce) is consumed to bring a good harvest in the new year. Osechi is usually prepared on the 31st December of each year and is expected to last for three days.
- Otoso: Otoso is sake, a rice wine mixed with herbs, that is drunk on the first day of the year. It is believed that when you drink otoso on New Year’s day, it will flush out all the bad and drive away sickness. Traditionally, a family shares one cup and the youngest takes the first sip and the oldest the last.
- Ozoni: Made with mochi rice cake, ozoni is a traditional Japanese New Year soup which is served with other dishes on the morning of New Year day as it is believed to bring good luck.
Otoshidama: On New Year, children receive envelopes filled with money from their parents or elders who want to show them their appreciation and hope that the money will help start their New Year on a positive note. Usually, the envelopes are designed with drawings or wordings.
- Hatsumōde: The first time one visits a Buddhist temple or Shinto shrine at the beginning of a new year is Hatsumōde. During this visit, people would make new year wishes, pray for a good year and buy omamori (good luck charms).
- Kakizome: Kakizome is the first writing of the new year, usually on the 2nd of January. People would write poems or auspicious kanji and other meaningful phrases and idioms. Then, during the Sagicho festival, which is on the 14th of January, the kakizome papers would be burned, and whose paper flies the highest is their calligraphy skills would be better.
- Hatsuyume: Hatsuyume is the first dream one has in a new year and it is believed that how the person would spend the new year depends on the content of the dream. For instance, if your first dream in 2022 is of an eggplant or a hawk or Mount Fuji, you will have a good year as they are considered to be good luck.
We would like to thank all the students who took part in this online workshop and hope that it was an eye-opening and enlightening experience for you all.
And for those who were not able to join us, we hope the information above helps you get an insight into the fascinating Japanese New Year celebrations and traditions.