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 arround the period until 31st December(Omisoka), while beginning of New Year is the period from 1st January. Year end and beginning of the year are somewhat different in term of the food Japanese eat and the thing they do. Today, let's us introduce about the Japanese’s funny New Year celebration 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 a Japanese to buy lottery, however the year-end jumbo lottery which sold from November to December is extremely popular. There is a six digits 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 are a total of 1 billion yen prize including the first few major prize. Also, it is said that some lottery sales counter which have higher prize winning rates such as Ginza in Tokyo, Yurakucho, the fourth building special lottery counter in the south of Osaka station, are always having long queue during this period. It seems like the habit of waiting for the result announcement in New Year's Eve already becomes one of the year end tradition of Japanese.
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 meet them until New Year comes, you can say "Yoi-otoshi wo!" before you go back. "Yoi-otoshi wo!" is the abbreviation for "Please have a good year ahead." It is used to wish others "Having a healthy and happy year (starting from New Year's Day). On the other hand, when it enters 1st January, you have to say "Akemashite-omedeto-gozaimasu! (Happy New Year!)". This word is used to celebrate the New Year has started peacefully. Even though there is a difference of the word, but 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) on 31st December, Japanese will eat soba. Soba of New Year's Eve is called as 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 eat at beginning of the year is called as Osechi. Each ingredient that looks luxurious is packed nicely in a box, and also each ingredient has a meaningful 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 culture in various region in Japan, for example zouni in Kanto is square shape, while rice cakes in Kansai area is round shape. In addition, “Zenzai” which served with baked mochi (rice cake) also create the perfect New Year atmosphere. Since there are a lot food eaten during New Year and in order to relieve irritation of the gastrointestinal, Japanese will eat “Nanakusagayu”, the porridge which contains 7 types of vegetables on 7th January.
4. Let us welcome God with a New Year decoration!
Same as Christmas trees decoration during Christmas, there is an indispensable decoration during New Year's Day. Even though the decoration differs depends on the region, basically the thing to be prepared are Kadomatsu, Shimenawa, and kagami mochi. Kadomatsu is an ornament which made from pine and bamboo. An appropriate size and designed Kadomatsu will be chosen to decorate in front the door of house. Shimenawa is one of the Japanese sacred item, which symbolize the God area and exhale 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 latest by 28th December. As it is bad luck for those who decorate all of these from 29th December to 31st December. Be sure to remove the decoration after the period of Matsunouchi. Matsunouchi period is is from 1st January to 7th January in Kanto region, and if from 1st January to 11th January in Kansai region. There are few minority area which Matsunouchi period end on 15th January. The Kagami Mochi is then made for zouni and red bean soup on 11th January which known as “Kagami Biraki no Hi”.
5. New Year's cards will for sure arrive on 1st January!
In Japan, Japanese have the habit of sending New Year's cards during New Year's Day. If you purchased the variety of New Year cards at the shop, or select a nice photo and DIY your own New Year's cards and send it within the deadline, the card will definitely arrive to the destination on 1st January. The most interesting thing is that you can send the card which attached 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 Japan local destination will be arranged to arrive on 1st January.)
6. Hatsumode with company colleague!
It is one of the Japanese culture to go for Hatsumode(first visit to temple in New Year) in New Year. However, it is unique that Japanese will visit temple and shrines together with company colleague which located nearby their workplaces. Don’t you feel it is a special experience to see the presidents and employees wear in coat and together pray for their business prosperity and work luck?
- 5 Most Popular Temples for Hatsumode in East Japan (東日本)
- 5 most popular temples among Japanese during Hatsumode (初詣) in West Japan (西日本)
- Hatsumode, what’s that? Visiting temples or shrines on New Year’s Day.