Visiting Japan on New Year’s holidays is one of the best choices you can make!
Contrary to what we think, not all nations celebrate this moment with parties and fireworks.
It’s the second New Year I’m here in Japan. While for the first one I was at the home of Yo’s parents in the countryside in the north of the country, the second one we decided to celebrate it here in Tokyo and live the atmosphere of this moment in a big city.
In this land, famous for its modern technology, in the days before and after the last days of the year, we can see a going back to the past and its traditions, through rituals that are followed by most families.
Little advice! If you plan to use trains, planes or night buses during this time of the year, I recommend you to book everything well in advance. New Year’s Eve is the time when most of the Japanese return to their native home, to participate in traditional ceremonies and 祭り (festivals) to be enjoyed with their families. Like we said in Italian “E’ un casino pazzesco!”. Every ticket are sold out and you last option to travel will take an expensive Shinkansen and probably not be able to sit for all the journey.
But because we are in Japan, there is always a good solution. To encourage traveler and help young people to get home economically (yes, because the prices of these vehicles are exorbitant!), you can buy the Seishun 18. It is a ticket that, for the economic figure of 11.850 Yen (93 Euros) allows you to travel all over the country (using local trains of the JR line) for 5 days!
The ticket is available to all (even tourists) and allows you to take advantage of these holidays to visit some wonderful corner of the country at a good price!
I bought the ticket and I went to Kanazawa in Ishikawa Prefecture. Was for sure a really long journey but the landscape that you can see, and the beauty of the local train is something that everyone should experience!
In Japanese culture, is important to start the New Year in a clean environment.
While in the west we have the “spring cleaning”, Japanese people don’t even miss the “Oosouji” (大掃除) which literally means “the big cleaning”. They are generally made between 28 and 29 December, and consist of a complete polishing of every corner of the house. For sure one of the best way to start the New Year in the best way! The housekeeping prepares the house for the reception of the Toshigamisama 年神様, or the god of the arrival of the new year so that it can be accommodated in our home for another year, with respect.
But if you think that cleaning your home is enough, maybe you’re forgetting about the strong sense of community that binds all the Japanese! Oosouji is not a cleaning that only concerns our home, but rather all the environments in which you live your daily life during the year! For this reason, in many schools, parents, students, and teachers, they activate the complete cleaning of the classrooms, as well as in many family business activities. What a better way to get ready for the New Year if in a perfectly clean house!
Another great tradition linked to New Year’s Eve concerns the aspect of this culture that I like most: the table! In the eve dinner, is a costume to rethink about the past and imagine the future together with those you love, savoring a good bowl of Toshikoshi Soba 年 越 し 蕎麦, also called “Noodles crossing the year”. The reason is their resistance and length, which symbolically represents a bridge between the old and the new year (perfect with a good glass of sake!)
But the most luxurious moment arrives in the first days of the new year with the Osechi Ryori – 御 節 料理. It is a beautiful and complex collection of different tastes of traditional Japanese dishes, artistically served in large containers divided into different sections called. The name of this beautiful box is Jubako.
-> If you are interested, here is a simple and delicious recipe of Soba: Soba Noodle Soup <-
Since the New Year is a day of rest for this population of workers, the preparation of Osechi Ryori takes place in the days before and consists mostly of ingredients dehydrated and rich in vinegar and sugar, so that they can be kept for the following days.
This great “Obento” is undoubtedly the most important meal of the new year and is full of hidden meanings. For example, to eat, special はし (chopstick) are used, rounded on both sides, one for the man, one for the god. In this way, both can enjoy and share the meal. Not to forget the ingredients used that have good luck for the new year.
So if you are in Japan in the days before the New Year, looking in the kitchens of restaurants or those at home, you will notice a great movement in the preparation of this delicious and colorful Osechi Ryori!
It is perhaps the moment that all children and teenagers wait! For the New Year, parents, grandparents, and uncles, give the young family member a traditional envelope with some money inside. The reason is linked to the desire to give to new generations, luck, and hope for the future, and to make them responsible in the control of their savings.
The age range in which this gift is made varies from 5 to 20 years (20 is the time when adult age is reached in Japan). While the quantity is given depends on the generosity and availability of the family!
A smart way to begin to raise awareness among young children in the use of money.
This is a “commercial” tradition linked to the purchase of “Fukubukuro”, the bags of fortune.
Are gift close in boxes sell buy many different shops in which you can find EVERYTHING! From skin care products, clothes, food, toys, etc …
The tradition behind this moment dates back to the Edo period. It is said that an ingenious merchant was able to sell fortune to people during the New Year, through the purchase of his bags. From here, a real business has been built. Besides that, from January 1, in various clothing stores, accessories, cosmetics, etc. … you can buy them. Are limited-numbered and content is hidden. You just have to follow your instincts and choose the right one for you!
Ps: if what you have found doesn’t suit your style, don’t worry! In the last few years a site called “Yahoo Auction” allow you to exchange these “fortune bags”, sell them or receive others in return. If you have not found any luck in your bag, this is a way to find fortune in someone else’s.
Most importantly, in the days between 1, 2 and 3 January, is the time to visits the temple. It is perhaps the most important religious moment in which Japanese pray for their loved ones to live a healthy new year. The temples are usually open until late and you can find statues of the different gods’ representatives of different fortune whom you can donate an offer and pray for your future.
At this time of year, these sacred places are crowded more than ever! You will see happy roaming children and whole families often dressed in traditional clothes.
Let me say that they are wonderful!
These are just some of the celebratory moments related to the arrival of the year here in Japan. In fact, there are several festivals and concerts all over the country. I hope however that this list has allowed you to know something more about the customs of this country!
We just have to wish you a happy and joyful new year full of satisfaction and happiness!
Ele & Yo