New Year in Japan
While Christmas is everywhere in Japan now, the biggest celebration here is the Japanese New Year, or Oshogatsu 正月.
Christmas in Japan is really a more romantic occasion. All the best hotels in the best locations are fully booked on Christmas Eve, as young Japanese spend the day courting, coupling that with a visit to a church on Christmas Eve to attend a service to fully enjoy the night.
Once Christmas Day is over, every single decoration is removed from the shops, stations etc. It`s like it never happened. Very depressing for us who come from countries where Christmas is the major celebration.
After the Christmas decorations have been taken down, the preparations for the Japanese New Year begin.
People start writing new year`s greetings cards called Nengajo 年賀状.
These are basically postcards with decorations on them, wishing the recipient all the best of luck in the coming year etc.
Nowadays, people print their own Nengajos with family photos on them, instead of the more traditional new year`s scenery.
Then, there is the traditional end of year cleaning known as Ohsouji 大掃除. This symbolises sweeping out the old, removing bad luck etc. from the home and making it clean to welcome in the new year and
all the good things associated with it. Companies, too, have Ohsouji, and it`s very common to see different departments doing their own cleaning before the year is out.
Decorations are put up outside businesses and homes. The most common one you will see is the Kadomatsu (門松). This is supposed to house the Toshigami (年神). This is a god that will visit homes and businesses for the New Year. If the Kadomatsu is put up late in December, the gods can’t stay long enough, which is considered a bad omen. The Toshigami will bless farmers with a good harvest and bestow the blessings of the ancestors’on everyone in the home. Around January 15th, the Kadomatsu is then burnt to release the deity again.
On the front doors of Japanese homes, you will see a decoration called Shime-kazari (しめ飾り). This is made from straw rope blessed in a Shinto ceremony, tied together with ferns and white ritual paper strips called Shide (紙垂, 四手). It is also popular to see tangerines called Daidai (橙) added to the decoration. They are considered to be a good omen as “dai-dai” can also be written with the kanji “代々” meaning from “generation to generation”. This symbolises the continuation of a family from generation to generation.
Another thing you will see all over Japan during this time of the year is Kagami mochi (鏡餅). These are two layers of mochi rice caked placed one on top of the other, with a daidai above. This symbolises one year going and another coming, with luck above both.