Japanese New Year is the best time to know Japanese culture

happy new year in Japanese

Happy New Year in Japanese “Akemashite Omedeto Gozaimasu”

Hello! Today I want to talk about January in Japan! New Year is a start of a brand new year and everybody makes new resolutions in Japan but Japanese have more things to do. Everywhere you go, you will see a crowd of people on the first of January because of their traditional events. Also, there are many delicious foods that Japanese people eat for the New Year. Now, are you so interested in hearing what I want to say? (‘ω’*)♪

There two more events after Shogatsu. As mainly I explain to you about Japanese New Year, let me show you other ones too.

Let’s get going! ・+(*゜∀゜*)+・

 

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Contents ε=ε=┏( >_<)┛

Old Year to New Year(Shogatsu/正月)

 

Jyoya No Kane

It’d be hard to hit bell 108 times

I’m sure you know this already! People celebrate New Year all over the world! Japanese celebrate in a different way, on 31st December every year at about 11 pm (It depends on what time people at temple do this) the temple will start to ring a big bell. They hit the bell 108 times! The person who hits the bell is usually a monk, people who are training to be a monk or common people like us who want to ring the bell.  It’s up to temple but actually, we can ring the bell! They ring the bell 107 times until New Year and the last one is in the new year. The reason why 108 times is, in Buddhism, it’s said that 108 worldly desires are what we have. In Buddhism, they believe to get rid of the worldly desires, that you will be able to achieve enlightenment. That ‘s why they hit bell for people.

After 12 am, people finish hearing the bells, some people go to temple or shrine to pray for good luck for the New Year at night. Of course, many people go to the temple of shrine 1st January New Year day or basically until 7th January, most Japanese people have off until 7th. I will talk about  the difference between shrine and temple later on, if you want to know more click on my link If you want to learn more about Shrine vs Temple When people go to a temple or shrine, if adult some drink a Japanese drink called Amazake, if you have a chance to try it please do, it is really good. I’m so sure you will be able to find Amazake at every shrine or temple you go to! It is sweet sake that dates back to the Kofun period!

Do you like to drink sake or have you drank it before? Personally, I love sake so much, it is easy to drink and goes down so smooth! Any way to drink Amazake in the new year, they say it will bring you good luck and pray for good life, good health, and so on to drink! If you go to famous shrine or temple place, make sure you dress up nice and warm! You will make a line for a couple of hours to get to the top of the main place to throw a coin and pray! The money you are supposed to throw is 5 yen(5 cents in Japanese currency). 5 Yen is go en in Japanese(They pronounce Yen is en). Go is 5 in Japanese, Goen in Japanese means good luck! That is why you will not see people throwing big money! Let’s throw 5 yen! After that, Japanese people tend to draw fortune lots from the fortune teller for the new year. So good luck what you will draw!! This is what Japanese people do in the new year.

By the way, do you know how to visit Japanese shrines or temples? Here is another post.

 

 

Toshikoshi Soba(年越しそば)

 

SobaBefore I talk about Japanese New Year food, I have to tell you this food. This is not the New Year food. But Japanese eat this food on December, 31st before the old year changes. This food is called “Toshikoshi Soba”.

Toshikoshi means to see the old year out and the New Year in. Soba is buckwheat noodles. This custom started from Edo period(1603-1868) and nowadays, they still carry this custom.

 

What is the reason to eat Toshikoshi Soba?

The reason why they eat Toshikoshi Soba is interesting.

  • Comparing to other Japanese noodles, Soba breaks more easily so it’s said that to cut ties with the old year’s bad luck, they eat Soba.
  • Soba is slim and long so this means to live life slim and long.

Those are the general reasons to eat Soba on December, 31st. But now, you want to know what time they eat it, right? (●´∀`)

 

What time does Japanese eat Toshikoshi Soba?

Actually, there is no rule for this. If you eat it before the New Year comes, that would be fine. The point of eating Toshikoshi Soba is to remove the old year’s bad luck so you have to eat it before the New Year.

Most Japanese people eat it for the dinner. I think that would be the best time!

 

List of the Japanese New Year foods and symbolism(Osechi Ryori/おせち料理)

 

Osechi(Japanese New Year food)At home, the housewife will get busy to make Osechi Ryori for New Year. Osechi Ryori is new year food! It’s so delicious! Even just taking a look at pictures make me hungry and drooling!!!(´∀`*) The history of Osechi Ryori is so deep. It’s said that it started from Yayoi period(300 BC–250 AD). People of former days used to thank god for a harvest every season. The offerings for the blessings of nature or a harvest were called “Sekku(節供)” and the offerings which are cooked for a full harvest or the blessings of nature were called “Sekku Ryori(節供料理)”. This is the original Osechi Ryori.

After a while later, the Imperial Court started seasonal festivals and they had the party was called “Sechie(節会)” for the seasonal festivals. For those festivals, they cooked foods and offered them to god. Those foods were called “Osechiku(御節供)” and the word of Osechiku was shortened to say as “Osechi”.

When it was Edo period(1603-1868), Osechi spread to common people and it continues up to today.

Anyway, let me show you the general Osechi Ryori with explanations of its symbolism.

 

Zoni(雑煮)

 

Ozoni(Japanese new year food)(1)Zoni is a soup which includes Mochi and vegetables. The taste of the soup is various in every local place.

 

Rice cake(Mochi/餅)

 

MochiMochi is stretchy so it’s a symbol of longevity. The shapes of Mochi are two kinds. One is round and another one is square. The round Mochi means peace or harmony. The round shape is called “En” in Japanese and “Enman” means peace or harmony. The Round Mochi is usually seen on the west side of japan.

The square Mochi is generally seen on the east side of japan. The reason is because of the population on the east side. It’s easier and faster to cut into squares to produce many Mochi for many people. The other reason is “Teki wo nosu”. This means to beat enemies. The capital city of Edo period was in Edo which is Tokyo now. Tokyo sits on the east side of Japan and the influence of the Samurai society was strong. Before they went to battles, they used to cut Mochi into squares and eat it as Zoni.

You will see boiled Mochi and grilled Mochi. This is up to how they want to eat Mochi or up to the local regions. Both of them are good taste, though!


Black soybean(Kuromame/黒豆)

 

Kuromame(Black soybean)It’s boiled with sugar. The black color is known to protect you from evil.

Soybean is Mame in Japanese. Japanese say “Mame ni hataraki, mame ni kurase”. This means “Work hard and live healthy” in English. So, black soybean is for your good health.

 

Herring roe(Kazunoko/数の子)

 

Herring roe(Kazunoko)(Japanese new year food)A herring produce many eggs. This means to wish for the prosperity of descendants.

 

Small dried sardines(Tazukiri/田作り)

 

Small dried sardines(Tazukiri)(Japanese new year food)A long time ago, Japanese used to use dried sardines as a fertilizer for rice fields and this way was successful! So, this food is to wish for a good harvest.

 

Red and white vegetables seasoned in vinegar(Kohaku-namasu/紅白なます)

 

Kohaku Namasu(Japanese new year food)It is originally raw fish and vegetables seasoned in vinegar but nowadays, Japanese people don’t use raw fish much anymore. Instead of raw fish, they usually put other vegetable or seaweed.

The color of red and white represents from a peace in Japan. Also, a red color is to protect you from evil and white color is the symbol of pureness and sacredness.

 

Sweet omelet(Datemaki/伊達巻)

 

Datemaki(Japanese new year food)Datemaki is seasoned bonito or tuna with the cooked brown seaweed. It’s known as Masamune Date’s favorite food.

This food looks like a scroll. So, it’s to wish for the development of the culture and the success of the study.

 

Mashed sweet potato with sweet chestnuts(Kurikinton/栗きんとん)

 

Kurikinton(Japanese new year food)Kin means gold in Japanese kanji so this food is to wish for being lucky with money.

 

Red and white Boiled fish paste(Kohaku Kamaboko/紅白かまぼこ)

 

Kamaboko(Boiled fish paste)As you see above, the red color is to protect you from evil and white color is the symbol of pureness and sacredness. The shape looks like the sunrise on New Year’s Day so it’s also for good luck.

 

Shrimp, Prawn, and Lobster(Ebi/海老)

 

Ebi(Lobster)When they are boiled, they bend their body. So, it’s to wish for a long life. Our body will bend naturally when we get older, right?

 

Yellowtail fish(Buri/ぶり)

 

Buri(Yellow-tail fish)Yellowtail fish changes its name as they grow bigger in Japan. So, it’s to wish for the success in life.

 

Red Snapper(Tai/鯛)

 

Tai(Red Snapper)“Medetai” means happiness in English and red snapper is Tai in Japanese. The word of Tai is the same so it’s to wish for a happiness.

 

Eel(Unagi/うなぎ)

 

Eel(Unagi)Eel goes up the river against a rapid stream. So, it’s to wish for the success in life.

 

Simmered Food Wrapped in Konbu(Konbu-maki/昆布巻き)

 

Konbumaki(Japanese new year food)Konbu is kelp in English. Konbu-maki is also called Kobu-maki in Japan. The word of yorokobu(喜ぶ) sounds like konbu. So, it’s to wish for a happiness. And the word of konbu(昆布) can be expressed as the different kanji”子生婦(Konbu)”. This Kanji means to give a birth to a child. So, it’s to wish for the prosperity of descendants too.

 

Burdock root seasoned with sesame(Tataki Gobo/たたきごぼう)

 

Tataki-goboBurdock’s root grows deep under the ground so it’s to wish for growing a stable business or family. The shape and color of this food look like an auspicious bird. An auspicious bird is the symbol of the large harvest in Japan and it’s said that eating Tataki Gobo will bring you luck.

 

Chinese artichoke(Chorogi/ちょろぎ)

 

Chorogi(Japanese new year food)The word of Chorogi can be expressed as “長老木” in Kanji. This means a long longevity. So, it’s to wish for a long longevity.

 

Turnip(Kabu/かぶ)

 

Turnip(Kabu)In Samurai society, the word of Kabu connects to a head. So, this food is to wish for aiming at the top of something.

 

Simmering cooking style(Nishime/煮しめ)

 

Nishime(Japanese new year food)This dish is mainly vegetables. You simmer to cook this so it can mean that the family can get along together like those vegetables can be mixed together.

Each vegetable that are used for Nishime also have the meaning below.

 

Lotus root(Renkon/蓮根)

 

Lotus(Renkon)Lotus root has holes inside and you can see the far vision. It’s said that you can have farseeing strategies. Lotus leaf is the symbol of Buddhism and it’s known as a pure plant.

 

Japanese taro(Satoimo/里芋)

 

SatoimoA parent taro has many kids taro. So, it’s to wish for having many kids.

 

Water chestnut(Kuwai/くわい)

 

KuwaiWater chestnut makes a big sprout. So, it’s to wish for the success of the business.

 

Shiitake mushroom(Shiitake/椎茸)

 

ShiitakeShiitake used to be used for the offering to god. It’s to wish for a good health.

 

Twisted devil’s tongue(Tazuna-Konnyaku/手綱こんにゃく)

 

Konnyaku(Devil's tongue)They twist Konnyaku and make it look like reins. The knot part is called “Musubi” in Japan. The phrase of “En wo Musubu” means to tie or foam a connection with a marriage.

 

Carrot(Ninjin/にんじん)

 

Japanese carrotThe red color stands for a longevity. So, it’s to wish for a long life.

 

Bamboo shoot(Takenoko/たけのこ)

 

Kazunoko(Bamboo Shoot)Bamboo shoot grows up fast and gets taller to the sky. So, it’s to wish for the success of the business or the prosperity of descendants.

 

Amazake(甘酒)

 

AmazakeAmazake is sweet Sake. This is to purify our body and protect ourselves from evil. Japanese have the custom to drink Sake every time the season changes. This is for purification and protection.


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Osechi box(Jubako/重箱)

 

Jubako(Osechi box)A nest of boxes for Osechi Ryori is called “Jubako(重箱)”. Generally, it’s a three-layered box at the present time but traditionally, a four-layered box is official. You’ll see a five-layered box sometimes too. This means that it’s up to the local area.

There is a rule to arrange foods in Jubako so let me show you how they do with the 3 layered-box of Jubako.

 

First box of Jubako

The first box is for “Otoso(おとそ)”. Otoso is a New Year’s spiced sake. When Japanese drink it, they usually eat “Iwaizakana(祝肴)”. Iwaizakana is three kinds of foods. Generally, they are small dried sardines cooked with soy sauce and sugar, simmered black soy beans, and salted herring roe. And they put sweet foods like mashed sweet potato with sweet chestnuts, sweet omelet, boiled fish paste, and so on for the people who can’t drink Otoso like children. Those three sweet foods are called “Kuchitori(口取り)”. Kuchitori is a first dish at Japanese feast(Kyozen/饗膳) and they serve you with sweet foods at first.

 

Second box of Jubako

In second box, they usually put grilled fish and foods in sweetened vinegar. You can also put the foods that you couldn’t put in the first box. Examples of foods are raw fish and vegetables seasoned in vinegar, lotus seasoned in vinegar, shrimp or lobster, yellow-tail fish, and so on.

 

Third box of Jubako

They usually put boiled vegetables and boiled sea weed. Examples of foods are simmered konbu rolls, Nishime, and so on.

(The way they put foods in Jubako or what kind of foods they use is various. I just showed you the general way.)

 

What to do for the New Year in Japan

 

Diamond Mt Fuji

Diamond Mt Fuji

Japanese workers usually have day-offs until around January, 4th from the end of December. (Usually, they have 6 day-offs but it’s up to the companies or the years). Some people go abroad! Hawaii is the most popular place to go for Japanese but that is not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about something is traditional! Let me show you what they do on this vacation.

 

Hatsumode(初詣)

Hatsumode is the first visit to a temple or a shrine to pray for good luck for the New Year. There many people go to a temple or a shrine so a crowd will be huge! You will notice that everywhere you go, people are everywhere! If you are not good at being in a crowd, you should visit to them, after January, 4th.

More details of Hatsumode is here.

 

 

Hatsuyume(初夢)

 

Hatsuyume (first dream)Hatsuyume is the first dream that you would see on the New Year’s night or 2nd. But there is no specific day for it so it’s vague. This is not something to do on purpose but this is a unique event to do by yourself while sleeping. It’s said that if you see the certain things, you would have good luck for the New Year. Let me show you the best 3 to dream of.

  1. Mt Fuji
  2. Hawk
  3. Eggplant

There are also “4th: Fan””5th: cigarette””6th: Zato(The people who were blind and live their life as a monk or  a masseur。)”

Anyway, if you want to know why those things are good luck, think this way.

  • Mt Fuji and a fan are the same shape. It widens toward the end. This is for a prosperity of descendants or a prosperity of a business.
  • A hawk and a cigarette(smoke) can go up high. This means that your fortune would go up high like them.
  • An eggplant doesn’t have its hair so Japanese say “Ke ga nai(No hair)”. “Ke ga nai” can also mean “No hurt” in Japanese and if you know Zato, they shaved their hair so “no hair”! This can express that if you dream of Zato or an eggplant, you won’t get hurt or hurt yourself in that year.

Isn’t it interesting? But I know a different story of Hatsuyume so let me tell you.

This is something to do with Ieyasu Tokugawa. Do you know him? This Samurai started Edo period and one of the most famous Shogun in Japan.

  • Mt. Fuji sits in the boundary of Shizuoka and Yamanashi prefecture and he was from Suruga which is present Shizuoka prefecture.
  • There is also a mountain is called “Ashitaka-yama(愛鷹山)” in Shizuoka prefecture. “Taka” means Hawk and you see the same word is used for this mountain’s name.
  • Ieyasu Tokugawa used to love an eggplant. And the price of the first eggplant of the season was high.

Therefore, this best 3 to dream of is an order of height for what Ieyasu Tokugawa liked.

What do you think? There are many opinions for this! It’s fun to know, right? (*^o^*)

By the way, if you want to have those dream seriously, Japanese say to put the picture of the boat of the lucky seven Japanese gods under your pillow!

 

New Year’s card(Nengajo/年賀状)

 

Nengajo(Japanese new year's card)Japanese people print a picture and write New Year’s card by themselves. They will send them before the New Year so those cards will get to the people for the first day of the New Year. But this custom is fading away since cell phones or smart phones have been out. It’s sad thing but it might be good thing for the people who had to write many cards!

 

Lucky bag(Fukubukuro/福袋)

 

Fukubukuro(lucky bag in Japan)Everything is so cheap in the New Year vacation. Many store will have a New Year sale and “Fukubukuro” is one of the famous shopping way in Japan. Do you know what it is? It’s like a mysterious bag or luck bag.

If you want to know it, read this post!

 

 

 

 

Otoshidama(お年玉)

 

Otoshidama bagsIt’s time to cry for adults, people! Otoshidama is to give your money away to your children or your family’s kids. If you have many family have kids, I would like to say Sayonara~! Many Japanese kids can’t wait for this event! I have a friend who earned $2.000.00 when he was a kid! But that means his parents spent much money to their family….. It’s so scary event for adults.

 

Traditional games for the New Year in Japan

 

Karuta(かるた)

 

Karuta(Japanese new year's game)Karuta is a Japanese card game. Anime “Chihayafuru” has been known as Karuta anime and getting popular nowadays. There are old poems on the cards and you have to take the exact card that a reader reads before your opponent takes.

I have a Karuta post. If you are interested in this game, here you go!

 

 

 


 

Kite flying(Takoage/凧あげ)

 

Takoage(Flying kite)As you see the name, it’s a kite flying. Japanese fly a kite in this period. There are many traditional Japanese pictures on it and very interesting. I have a small kite for decorating my room. There are kite flying competitions and it’s fun to watch.

 

Battledore and shuttlecock(Hanetsuki/羽根つき)

 

Hanetsuki(Japanese new year's play)Hanetsuki is like a badminton. The difference is the racket is made of woods and balls are not made of rubber. I don’t have to explain it much, right?

 

Fukuwarai(福笑い)

 

fukuwarai(Jaanese new year game)Fukuwarai is like a game “pin the tail on the donkey”. It’s a puzzle of a human face. You cover your eyes and try to put right parts of a face, for example, eyes, mouse, nose, and more on the right place of the face. It’s so fun to do this and you can have a good time with your family.

 

Beanbags(Otedama/お手玉)

 

Otedama(Japanese new year's play)Otedama is a juggling game. Beans are wrapped by a bag and it was popular for girls. I have them in my house just to decorate my room.

 

A top(Koma/こま)

 

Koma(A top)If you know Bakugan(Japanese anime), you can easily understand this. Koma is a top and you have to set everything by yourself manually to spin it unlike Bakugan. This takes a while to learn to spin a top well.

 

Nanakusagayu(Rice gruel containing the seven plants of spring)

 

Nanakusagayu in JapanOn 7th January, Japanese people make rice gruel with the seven plants of spring for charm of good health. This event is not what all Japanese people do, I’m sure only some Japanese. This is not big event but a traditional event. This is for relaxing your heavy stomach from eating yummy Osechi Ryouri and also wish for good health.(To eat that used to be wished to have good harvest in field.)I made a table for seven plants list.take a look what they put in rice gruel!

EnglishJapaneseJapanese pronunciation
Japanese ParsleyせりSeri
Shepherd's PurseなずなNazuna
CudweedははこぐさHahakogusa
chickweedこはこべHakobe
NipplewortたびらこTabirako
TurnipかぶKabu
RadishだいこんDaikon

What do you think after seeing plants?? It seems like those will relax your stomach huh??(*・з・)

 

Seijin shiki(Coming of age day)

 

Japanese coming of age daySecond Monday of January, this day is for people who are 20 years old in that year or that year people will become 20 years old in that year. What they do is basically celebrate for coming of age. In Japan becoming 20 years old is legally called adult. They will be invited to participate in a ceremony for coming of age day by city. They usually get dressed in suits or Hakama(Japanese traditional clothing) for boys, suits or Kimono(Japanese traditional clothing)for girls.

This is January event in Japan. I will post February events next time!Bye Bye! φ(・ω・ )

 

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