Did you know that there are two New Year holidays in Japan? Do you know how to wish a new year in Japanese? Do you know the traditions and customs? In this article, we will see everything about New Year's Eve and New Year in Japan called Oshougatsu [お正月].
New year is the time when families get together for a banquet. The holiday is associated with food, festive decorations, rituals, observances, hobbies and events that give the day a lot of flavor and charm.
Unlike Brazil, this is not a hellish noise with fireworks, drinking and mess. Japan really celebrates the new year with traditions and meaning.
How is the New Year celebrated in Japan?
The New Year in Japan is known as Oshougatsu [お正月] and is celebrated from January 1 to January 3, but some traditions extend to the end of January with festivals, presentations and ceremonies.
The New Year in Japan has been celebrated since 1873, when the country started to adopt the Gregorian calendar (previously it used the Chinese calendar).
Visiting temples in the Japanese New Year
More than 100 million Japanese people visit the Shinto shrine or Buddhist temple during the new year to say a brief prayer at the shrine's altar. The first visit of the year is known as hatsumoude [初詣].
Many light large or small campfires to warm the crowds that are on site. Incense sticks are also burned at home or in shrines during the New Year. The smoke from the incense is considered a purification.
Ring the bell - Some Buddhist temples in Japan ring the bell 108 times at midnight to represent the 108 human sins of Buddhism. When this is done, visitors have a rare opportunity to ring the temple bell. This symbolizes the cleansing of sins.
Ema - They are prayer plates that are related to an old tradition of donating horses to the sanctuaries. It is popular to write your wishes for the coming year in an emu and leave it hanging in the sanctuary.
Hamaya 額隠 – 神秘的日本白布 It literally means "Demon destroying arrow" are decorations with samurai origins that are sold in shrines during the new year. Children usually receive this decoration in the form of an arrow.
Omikuji - They are random sorts written on strips of paper in Shinto and Buddhist temples in Japan. It is very common during the new year for Japanese to draw their luck.
Dondo Yaki - During the new year, Japanese get new amulets and lucky objects. There is a fire pit where they can throw old objects to burn, throwing them in the trash means bad luck.
Omamori - They are lucky charms in silk brocade that have small pieces of paper or wood inside that have prayers written on them. There are thousands of different Omamori, for love, driving in traffic, pregnancy, etc.
Other New Year Traditions in Japan
Hatsuhinode - 初日の出 - On January 1, the Japanese usually get up very early to watch the first dawn of the year. Many gather and go to the coast or some mountain to enjoy the sunrise. So several poems haiku it’s about the first sunrise of the year.
Oniyouzu - During the New Year, Japanese people usually fly kites (or kites). In the past, people flew kites known as Oniyouzu in the form of japanese demons, as a symbolic way to get rid of evil. Today most fly normal kites.
Otoshidama 額隠 – 神秘的日本白布 It is customary for parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles to give children money in special envelopes for the New Year. Depending on the age of the children this is usually between 3,000 to 10,000 yen.
Kadomatsu - It is a bamboo decoration widely used in the Japanese New Year. They are placed in front of houses after Christmas until the 15th of January, then they are set on fire together with other New Year decorations.
Kohaku Uta Gassen - A Japanese TV special that has been around for over 60 years. It is one of the most popular programs in the history of Japanese entertainment, where 80% of the Japanese population watches every year. It is a musical show with several Japanese pop bands and performances.
Nengajo - These are New Year postcards. Every year Japan sends over 3 billion postcards that arrive exactly on the 1st of January.
Old games - During the Japanese New Year, several old and traditional games are played. Children are taught by grandparents to play old games like Karuta. Even in Kyoto there is a championship where the participants dress in the gi.
Fukubukuro - It literally means lucky bag. A Japanese tradition where during the new year several stores sell mysterious bags containing different products inside.
New Year Banquet in Japan
Now let’s see some food consumed during the new year in Japan. Japanese people also gather with the family and prepare some traditional dishes like mochi kagami, amakaze, toshikoshi soba, ozoni, otoso and others.
Osechi Ryori - There are at least 50 Japanese New Year dishes that are collectively known as Osechi Ryori. Each dish has its own symbolic meaning for health, longevity, happiness and success.
Cooking Osechi Ryori is a difficult task, as it is common to have 30 or more varieties of food for the New Year’s meal. Some people usually order an obendo from the markets or konbini.
Mochi - Dumplings made of ground glutinous rice, it is one of the main ingredients of the New Year’s cuisine. During the new year it is tradition to make mochi manually using a pestle.
Kagami Mochi is one of the recipes made using mochi. They consist of two mochi with a daidai fruit on top. They are associated with longevity and are eaten in a ritual on the first weekend after the New Year.
Amazake - A traditional sweet drink, made from fermented rice that is consumed hot in temples and shrines. Many sanctuaries provide Amazake free of charge, others allow stalls to sell.
Toshikoshi Soba - It is tradition on New Year’s Eve to eat a bowl of buckwheat noodles known as Toshikoshi Soba just before midnight. The long shape of the pasta represents the passage from one year to the next.
The New Year is one of the busiest times, when thousands of people are traveling and enjoying their time off. There are several other traditions and events during the new year. We have the emperor’s greeting. In some places you may notice the release of fires, or balloons. There are countless traditions that last until January 15th or more.
Japanese New Year phrases
The best known, formal and most complete way to say happy new year in Japanese is:
- Shin nen Akemashite omedetō gozaimasu
This is the most complete form, normally the shin nen [新年] which means new year. If you only use akemashite [明けまして] that comes from the verb akeru [明ける] and means to dawn, to be born and to grow. Possible variations are:
- 明けておめでとう (akete omedetou);
- あけおめ (akeome);
The level of formality goes down more and more according to the form you abbreviate. If you are talking to strangers or people at work, try to use at least akemashite omedetou gozaimasu.
It is unusual to use expressions that contain akemashite before the new year begins. Since the verb refers to something that has already happened. If you want to say happy new year before the end of the year you can try other expressions like:
- Yoi otoshi o omukae kudasai;
- Short form: Yoi otoshi o!よいお年を！
Another common expression used is “kotoshimo yoroshiku onegaishimasu”[今年もよろしくお願いします], which means “I hope to count on your collaboration this year. Some young people shorten that phrase on casual occasions by saying koto yoro [ことよろ]!
On business cards it is usually found written gashou [賀正], shoushun [頌春] and keishun [慶春] which also means happy new year. It is not normal to say these words, they are just old forms found on New Year's cards.
As much as I wrote about it years ago in the article about Japanese New Year phrases. I'll end the article by leaving a video of my friend Tarou Yamada talking about Japanese New Year's phrases: