Year end(年末) and New year(お正月) customs and celebrations in Japan

In Japan, New year is the most celebrated occasions. New year day and the days around it are public holidays in Japan. Most of the companies and institutions provide one week or more consecutive holidays for their employees during this time. New year in Japanese is Oshogetsu(お正月). Just before the New year, Japanese socieThere are many customs and practices in the Japanese society associated with a New year. Every customs and tradition of Japan has its own meanings too.

Bonenkai(忘年会): Year End party

Bonenkai is the Year-end-party conducted by companies, friends, business circles etc. Most of the restaurants and hotels of Japan offers special services during November-December months for Bonenkai. It is done to express the gratitude as well as to give away the unhappy things of past year and welcome the new year with new hopes. Bonenkai are usually drinking parties where the officials and employees drink sake, beer and other drinks without professional boundaries between them.

Oseibo(お歳暮)

Oseibo is the year-end gifts. These are sent to family, friends, companies, and whomever one wan to express their gratitude. We can find Oseibo gifts arranged in special packets. It may be anything ranging from sweets, drinks or household items.

Oosouji(大掃除): The big Cleaning

Oosouji is the essential part of welcoming a new year. People clean every nook and corner of their houses and surroundings prior to the New year days. They will be dumping out all the wastes and useless items from their home during this time. It is done with the intention of getting rid of all the wastes of last year and welcoming the coming year in a completely fresh atmosphere.

New year decorations

New year decorations like Kagami mochi, Shimenawa, kadomatsu etc. will be done in shops, offices, houses and every place to welcome the new year.

Family gathering

Almost all the Japanese people gather with their families to celebrate the New year. They will return to their ancestral home where the entire family members meet together and spent the very first days of a New year. Families spent time together eating special New year foods, visiting shrines, playing various traditional games like Karuta, went their family graveyard to visit and pray to their ancestors etc. Every new year is an auspicious time for the Japanese families to meet their relatives and enjoy their time together.

Hatsumode(初詣) :First shrine visit

Japanese society gives importance in visiting shrines during the New year. The first visit to the shrine during the New year is called Hatsumode. There are many religious customs too. Even though Hatsumode is done during the New year evening, it could be done any time up to Jan 3rd. At a shrine, people used to take Omikuji which are fortune tellers. This ‘first’ Omikuji will be telling a year’s fortune. This paper strip written with some fortune words will be tied on special poles or trees within the shrine grounds itself.

Omikuji

At a Buddhist temple, the great bell (Bonshou-梵鐘) will be rung 108 times during the New year midnight. It is done with a belief to throwaway 108 sins of the previous year and cleanses everyone during the new year. This tradition is called ‘Joyo no Kane(除夜の鐘).

Hatsuhinode(初日の出): First sunrise

Japanese society gives importance to every ‘first’ thing throughout their life. So everything first during a new year also has that much importance. The first sunrise of a year is considered sacred and they wait to see it. Regardless of the weather, people gather on mountains or beaches to watch the first sunrise and pray for their new year wishes. There are many locations, especially mountains famous for visualizing the first rays of the sun during a new year.

Nengajo(年賀状)- new year cards

New year cards are sent to family and friends during the new year time. It is an element to express one’s gratitude and care. The cards sent in December will be received on January 1, which is ensured by the Japan postal service. Cards of various price ranges are available at the book stalls and shops during the New year season.

New year Postcards

Year-end and New year Foods

Toshikoshi soba(年越し蕎麦) are eaten by the Japanese people as the supper on the final day of a year. The word ‘toshikoshi’ means ‘year-crossing’. These are brown buckwheat noodles are eaten while the bell rings(Joyo no Kane) at the Japanese Buddhist temples on New year night. These long noodles of soba have a meaning of ‘longevity’ and ‘good fortune’ among the Japanese.

Toshikoshi soba: Photo by Jessica Spengler on Flickr

Like every other auspicious moment, New year is also a time of special foods in Japan. Osechi Ryori is the first and foremost important food during a New year. It is a set of food items each with special meaning. Other new year foods include Nanakusa no Seku, etc.

Otoshidama(お年玉)

Otoshidama envelopes

Parents and relatives give money to children during New year. It will be enclosed in special envelopes which are really pretty sometimes decorated with fortune symbols. Otoshidama will be a minimum of one thousand yen.

More than the customs and rituals, the New year time is a long holiday for families to tour and enjoy. It is one of the most important occasions for gift shops, restaurants and every store. From Oseibo to Osechi Ryori, current generation relies on get-it-packed items which are consumed at its most during the New year days.