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By Yasue

Japanese New Year (oshogatsu)  is the most important celebration for Japanese people. It is a wonderful time when all the families get together and celebrate. There are many customs and events for New Year.

Before New Year

After Christmas, Japanese people start preparing for New Year. All families clean their houses and put traditional decorations to give a pleasant welcome to God on New Year’s Day. Also, people send greeting cards (nengajo) to their friends and relatives, which are similar to Christmas cards in the U.S. People write greetings and wishes for the next year, and they are delivered on New Year. During December, a lot of workplaces organize end-of-year parties (bonenkai). Literally, this party means forgetting unpleasant memories of the passing year and wishing for their success for the next year. People enjoy eating and drinking with their co-workers. Unfortunately, some people drink too much and have hard time in the office next day.

New Year’s Eve (omisoka)

New Year’s Eve is the busiest day. People try to finish all their preparation, such as cleaning, shopping and cooking New Year’s food by the evening. At night, a lot of people go to countdown events, while traditionally, others stay at home and eat soba noodles (toshikoshi soba) and watch TV programs, such as annual singing contest. Toshikoshi soba is a traditional food for New Year’s Eve because the long thin noodles symbolize our longevity.

At Buddhist temples, huge bells are struck 108 times (joya no kane). According to Buddhist beliefs, humans are born with 108 worldly desires, such as anger, envy, want, which are dispelled when the bells are struck 108 times. The sound of bells rings out beautifully during midnight.

New Year’s Day (gantan)

On New Year’s Day, People go to shinto shrines or temples to pray for their health and happiness (hatsumode). On hatsumode, people enjoy the festive atmosphere with wearing kimonos, greeting friends and eating food from street stalls. Many people buy good luck charms (omamori) for their health, happiness and success, or pick paper fortunes (omikuji) that tells us our fortunes for the year.

People eat traditional New Year’s food (osechi ryori), soup (ozoni) and drink special sake(otoso) with the whole family. Osechi ryori is a special food for New Year, in which many kinds of colorful foods are laid in tiered lacquer boxes (jubako) beautifully.  Each food has special meanings, such as good luck, health and longevity. People wish their happiness by eating them and enjoy talking, eating and drinking all day long.

The most exciting event for children is a money gift (otoshidama). Otoshidama is given from parents and all the adult relatives to children on New Year. Even though these expenses are large for adults, children look forward to otoshidama for all year long and enjoy buying long waited toys, clothes, etc.

Everyone spends fantastic time on New Year.

When I was a child, I always looked forward to New Year’s celebration. It was a pleasant time when all my relatives I rarely met got together on New Year’s Day. We ate a lot of food, played traditional games and went to shinto shrine. My uncles were always drunk and sang songs, then we all clapped our hands to the songs and laughed a lot together. I also enjoyed counting my otoshidama secretly to avoid a quarrel with my younger sister because the amount of money was different for each age. Every year, it was a happy moment that I became a rich girl and enjoyed buying my clothes and toys by myself. Now, I’m not able to celebrate New Year in Japan and miss that festive atmosphere, osechi ryori and my family so much.

The following sources were used in this article