New Years in Japan

New Years in Japan

New Years in Japan is a time spent with family, contrary to America where we either spend it with friends or going to New York City to see the ball drop. There are many traditions that must be followed before and after the new year. These traditions have been followed since 1873

What Does New Years Mean for Japanese?

The New Year is mostly spent at home with family. During this time most shops and services are closed from the 1st to the 3rd (there may be some shops that will remain open). Before approaching the new year, most places will begin to clean out their shops and homes preparing themselves to welcome in the new year. In the area I live in, I began noticing the shops cleaning out their businesses and deep cleaning their buildings as early as the 27th of December. Of course, it depended the size of the shop and available staff but some if not many closed their shops early from the 28th up until the 3rd or even later. So, if you are traveling during New Years or in the beginning weeks of January be wary of this. 

What Are Some of Their Traditions?

You'd be surprised to know a few of the traditions that take place, even in the workplace. It depends on the size of the company but some if not many, hold Bon enkai (which translates to "forget the year gathering") parties. This is a year-end party that is meant to leave all the bad behind from the current year and hope for a better more successful new year. You'll often see decorations outside of homes, shops, and restaurants by their entrances called Kadomatsu. The meaning behind these decorations is to welcome the Shinto deity Toshigami-sama and bring happiness on New Year’s Day. It’s believed that without these symbols of invitation, the god will not enter your home. Another tradition that is important to do is to have toshikoshi soba noodles on new years eve. It is said that soba noodles symbolize a long life and that if you eat them, you will ensure you’ll live a long and healthy life into the new year. In recent years, it’s become popular to watch a T.V. program that is shown 24 hours called Kohaku uta Gassen on New Years Eve.

On New Year’s Day its important to go to the shrine or temple, but be aware that it does get crowded. I was able to wake up at 3am and make my way to my local shrine and was lucky enough to enter without a problem or large crowds. It’s acceptable to visit the shrine or temple a few days after. At a Japanese home you’ll find families eating Osechi, and Ozoni. These dishes are essentially meant to last you the rest of the days which is convenient to have when most supermarkets are closed.

New Years in America vs. Japan

American new years and Japanese new years are celebrated rather differently. For some of us in America New Year’s Eve and day are spent out with friends or traveling somewhere new, while in Japan it’s seen as a time to spend with family. If you are in Japan for New Years, I encourage you to experience the beauty of their traditions.


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