The word "Nenmatsu nenshi" in Japanese is a generic term for the period from the end of the year until the beginning of the following year. Although the definition of Year End and New Year is slightly different depending on the region, year-end is around the period leading up to the 31st December (Omisoka), while beginning of New Year is the period from 1st January. Year end and New Year are somewhat different in terms of the food Japanese people eat and the things they do. Today, let us introduce the Japanese’s funny New Year celebrations from the perspective of a foreigner.
1. Long queue at the lottery department in year-end!
When you walk around the streets of Japan, did you notice that there are a lots of lottery depots around? It is quite normal for the Japanese to buy lottery tickets, however the year-end jumbo lottery which is sold from November to December is extremely popular. There is a six-digit figure on the sheet of year end jumbo lottery, and the winning numbers are drawn on 31st December. The first prize is 700 million yen, and there is a 1-billion-yen prize including the first few major prizes. It is said that some lottery sales counters have higher prize-winning rates including Ginza in Tokyo, Yurakucho and the fourth building special lottery counter in the south of Osaka station. These sales counters always have long queues during this period. It seems as though waiting for the result announcement on New Year’s Eve has already become one of the Years End traditions of Japanese people.
2. Greeting before 31st December and after 1st January are different!
When you meet one of your friends during Year End, and you are quite sure that you will not see them until the New Year comes, you can say "Yoi-otoshi wo!" before you leave. "Yoi-otoshi wo!" is the abbreviation for "Please have a good year ahead." It is used to wish others a healthy and happy year (starting from New Year's Day). On the other hand, when it enters the 1st of January, you have to say "Akemashite-omedeto-gozaimasu! (Happy New Year!)". This word is used to celebrate that the New Year has started peacefully. Even though there is a difference of the word the blessing feelings are both the same!
3. The cuisine to eat without fail in Year-End and New year!
On New Year's Eve (Omisoka), the 31st of December, Japanese people will eat soba. Soba for New Year's Eve is called Toshikoshi soba. Since soba can be cut easily, it has the meaning that we could cut off the bad luck in the past year. Also, since soba is thin and long, it also has meaning of longevity; it is said to be a very auspicious food.
The cuisine that Japanese people eat at beginning of the year is called as Osechi. Each ingredient looks luxurious at it is packed nicely in a box, and also each ingredient has an auspicious meaning. It takes a lot of time to make Osechi. Another dish that is indispensable during New Year's Day is Zouni. The method to make Zouni is slightly different depending on the cultures in various regions in Japan. For example, Zouni in Kanto is square shaped, while rice cakes in the Kansai area are a round shape. In addition, “Zenzai” served with baked mochi (rice cake) also creates the perfect New Year atmosphere. Since there is a lot of food eaten during New Year, Japanese people eat “Nanakusagayu” in order to relieve gastrointestinal irritation. It is a porridge which contains 7 types of vegetables and it is typically eaten on the 7th of January.
4. Let us welcome God with a New Year decoration!
Just like Christmas trees during Christmas, there is an indispensable decoration during New Year's Day. Even though the decoration differs depending on the region, basically the things to be prepared are Kadomatsu, Shimenawa, and kagami mochi. Kadomatsu is an ornament which is made from pine and bamboo. An appropriately sized and designed Kadomatsu will be chosen to decorate in front the door of house. Shimenawa is one of the Japanese sacred items, which symbolizes the God area and exhales the troubles and the evil. Many things such as oranges, flowers, and folding fans are decorated together with Shimenawa at house. On the other hands, Kagami mochi is a kind of offering to God, named after the round shape which looks like the Yatanokagami, one of the three major Japanese sacred treasures.
All 3 Kadomatsu, Shimenawa and Kagami mochi must be decorated at the latest by 28th December as it is bad luck for those who decorate these from 29th December to 31st December. Be sure to remove the decoration after the period of Matsunouchi. Matsunouchi period is from the 1st of January to the 7th of January in Kanto region, and from the 1st of January to 11th of January in the Kansai region. There are few minority areas where the Matsunouchi period ends on 15th January. The Kagami Mochi is then made for Zouni and red bean soup on the 11th of January which known as “Kagami Biraki no Hi”.
5. New Year's cards will for sure arrive on the 1st of January!
In Japan, people have the habit of sending New Year's cards during New Year's Day. You can purchase a variety of New Year cards at the shop or select a nice photo and DIY your own New Year's cards. If cards are sent within the deadline, the card will definitely arrive to the destination on the 1st of January. The most interesting thing is that you can send the card with otoshidama (Japanese money gift) as well! Don’t you think that it is so unusual to receive a handwritten New Year's card in such a modern era where SNS and mail are so developed? (*Only the New Year cards with a local destination will be arranged to arrive on 1st January.)
6. Hatsumode with company colleagues!
It is part of the Japanese culture to go for Hatsumode (first visit to the temple in the New Year). However, it is also unique that Japanese will visit temple and shrines together with company colleagues which are located nearby their workplaces. Don’t you feel it is a special experience to see the presidents and employees wearing coats and praying together for their business prosperity and work luck?
- 1. Long queue at the lottery department in year-end!
- 2. Greeting before 31st December and after 1st January are different!
- 3. The cuisine to eat without fail in Year-End and New year!
- 4. Let us welcome God with a New Year decoration!
- 5. New Year's cards will for sure arrive on the 1st of January!
- 6. Hatsumode with company colleagues!