Eating, Playing and SHOPPING!? How the Japanese spend their New Year Holidays

Japanese New Year is one of the most celebrated occasions of the year. It celebrates the start of another fruitful and exciting year, and is also one of the few times when families can gather together and share their joyfulness with each other. Most of us have heard of common traditions like Hatsumode or even watching the everlasting Ko-haku TV show, but have you ever wondered what other things Japanese people do other than lining up for shrines and temples? Today, we will walk you through some practices and traditions my family does during the New Year.

Osechi – Traditional Japanese Meal 

Osechi is a traditional meal for New Year’s Day which is a combination of different kinds of food such as beans, seafood, fish pasted items and so on. It often takes a couple of people and 2 to 3 days prior to New Year’s Day to prepare Osechi for the whole family because of it’s volume. Depending on the size of the family, some osechi are to be made for more than 20 people! Food items also differ between each family based on their preference and family tradition.

Noticing the hardship and how time consuming it is to make Osechi, supermarkets, and even convenience stores started to sell Osechi in recent years, which is a big lifesaver for a lot of families.

Hatsu-Uri and Fukubukuro for Shopping Lovers

“Hatsu-Uri” means the first sale of the year and most shops organize sales for the first 3 days of New Year. Other than discounts for individual items, you can also find Fukubukuro during Hatsu-uri. Fukubukuro is also known as goodie bag from which you can get random items. The value of all the items inside the Fukubukuro is usually higher than the price you pay, meaning most of the time it is a good deal. One exciting factor for Fukubukuro is that most of them are sealed and you cannot see what’s inside which makes it a game of pure luck. Most shops will indicate the type of items in bag but they will not tell you exactly what will be inside. Some Fukubukuros are considered very good deals and people will even line up outside the store from New Year’s Eve or even couple days prior New Year’s Day.

Traditional Plays for Children

New Year in Japan is one of the only occasions where all family members will join together to eat, drink, and talk. While most adults are busy talking to each other, most kids find it boring and they will start to play traditional games. One of the most common games is Karuta.

It is a card game of the Japanese alphabet. One reader reads out a sentence then the other players will have to compete to get the card first, which has relation to the sentence. It is a rather challenging game because you need to have a good memory and speedy eye-hand coordination.

Otoshidama Cash Gift for Kids


Other than traditional games like Karuta, here comes the most exciting part of New Year for kids, Otoshidama! It is a monetary gift given to kids from the adult relatives. The money is enrolled in special envelopes called “pochi-bukuro”, which are tiny cute or elegant patterned envelopes.

There are no strict rules regarding the amount of money given, but there is a rough guideline that many people follow. For preschool children, you should give 2,000 yen, for elementary school students, 3,000 yen and for junior and high school students, 5,000 yen and so on. The amount depends on your relationship with the kids like your own, your relatives’, your friends’, your bosses’ etc.


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