New Year in Japan- Customs and Traditions
Japan, with one of the longest histories in the world, remains ancient and profound in the middle of bustling modern life. By the good education and the good nature of Japanese themselves, all habits and customs from the past are conserved through generations and kept alive today. Let’s discover some special customs Japanese save for their New Year occasion to see through the beauty of a long standing culture.
Osouji-Cleaning and decorating house
Japanese used to clean their houses on December 13th called Susuharai, however, the plan is gradually close to the last day of the year. Many shrines and temples today still hold Susuharai ceremony on December 13th. People tidy and decorate houses to welcome New Year deities. The clean usually take place on December 28th or 30th to avoid the 29th which sounds like twice of pain or the 31st which is too close to the New Year. Japanese use many unique objects to decorate including Kadomatsu, Shimekazari and Kagamimochi.
Kodomatsu is a kind of pine gate with 3 beveled bamboo pipes, two kinds of auspicious trees, placed in pairs in front of house to welcome deities. Shimekazari is an other traditional decoration which will be hung up on the rooftop with the opposite meaning to Kodomatsu, preventing bad spirits. They welcome the Gods, they also offer shelter by Kagamimochi. Kagamimochi is a tray of mochi cakes with a tangerine called Mikan above.
Toshikoshi Soba-Eating year passing noodle
The custom of eating Toshikoshi noodles became popular in the middle of Edo period. Soba is a kind of long, thin and brown noodles made by buckwheat flour and wheat flour that can be served hot with soup or cold with flavored sauce on a bamboo plate. Traditionally, Japanese families eat Toshikoshi soba about one hour before the Eve. When eating the noodles, they try not to break any thread cause they believe that the longer noodles are, the longer they will live. Soba symbolizes not only a wish for long life but also good fortune for the next year. During the time of eating Toshikoshi Soba, members of families together recall every moments and events of the past year and look forward to the New one.
Joya no Kane-Ringing bell
On the divine moment when the years are changing vigorously, every temples in every localities will ring joya-no-kane for 108 times. All the bells will be struck at the same time making a resonant sound throughout the country. According to Buddhist belief, human have 108 worldly desires as evil desires that they suffer from the Earth. The bell tolling will help to drive these evel passions away and purify people for the new year. Many temples allow visitors to witness and even participate in ringing the bell. However, every television channels will broadcast this ceremony for those who can not find any temple nearby to listen to this holy sound.
Enryakuji temple's bell in Shiga
Hatsumoude-Visiting shrine or temple for the very first time of the year
Hatsumoude is the name Japanese use to call their first visit to a shrine or temple of the year. Many people depart on the 31st night and arrive at mid night while som others choose the 1st afternoon to go there. Every temples and shrines around Japan, specially in Kyoto of Kansai region, are really crowded on these days that people have to line up to a long row to wait. In Japanese, 5 yen sounds the same with charm or luck therefore they usually worship by 5 yen. This is a beautiful habit of Japanese to visit shrines and temples on the occasion of New Year to pray for happiness and safe and sound. You can find out a mother standing for a long time to wish heath and happiness for each of her sons and daughters, a boy sincerely praying for his old parent, or a couple holding each other hand and hoping a happy future together. Every little wish and dream of Japanese gather at small religious spots in the atmosphere of tranquil and solemn.
Nengajo-Sending New Year Card
Japanses post offices get their busiest days in the end of December and the beginning of the next year’s January thanks to the tradition of sending New Year postcards. This is the way how Japanese save their wishes inside a card and give their faraway friends and relatives. New Year postcards has various designs and concept, from 12 years Zodiacs to a part of a lottery in case of postcards sold by Japan Post. Not only Japan Post, New Year cards can be found in convenience stores and stationery shops and there are even some markets of nengajo only. Along with the development of social network, wishes sent through email or other electronic channels are more and more popular together with the decrease of New Year postcards. However, as a pretty gesture, a part of Japanese choose to write their best wishes by their own hand to express their sincerity and give their friends and relatives, someone that they have long time no see, the feeling of warm and emotional.
Otoshidama-Giving New Year lucky money
Last but not least, Otoshidama is an other custom that seems to be the best thing of New Year for every Japanese children. Otoshidama is a culture of giving children a symbolic amount of money which is wrapped in a small decorated envelopes called pochibukuro. Pochibukuro is also the bestseller of New Year time which is designed with cute images of cartoon characters. For some families with many in members, you have to spend much on Otoshidama. This tradition of giving money for children has the meaning of wishing children well, obedient and good at studying in the New Year.