JAPANESE CULTURE BLOG

New Year in Japan - Otoshidama (お年玉)

New Year in Japan - Otoshidama (お年玉)

The most exciting Oshōgatsu (“New Year”) tradition for school-age children in Japan is the custom of receiving otoshidama (New Year money) from their close elders, in a show of appreciation and good wishes. Presented in special pochibukuro (“small envelopes”) decorated with anything from New Year symbols to manga characters, it’s good etiquette to avoid opening otoshidama in front of others. The amount given usually depends on the child’s age, and some parents put half the amount towards their children’s personal savings.    So, where did otoshidama originate from? Traditionally, parents gifted children with kagami mochi (small “mirror rice cakes” that were offered to the deity Toshigami) and they were originally known as... toshidama. 

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New Year in Japan - Hatsumōde (初詣)

New Year in Japan - Hatsumōde (初詣)

One of Japan’s most culturally important traditions, hatsumōde sees people visit a Shinto (or Buddhist) jingu (shrine) and otera (temple) to make a small offering and pray for good luck in the new year (Oshōgatsu). Most people tend to visit between 1–3 January when they’re off work or school, with some people even queueing on 31 December to be one of the first in line. Tokyo’s most well-known shrines and temples, Meiji Jingu and Sensō-ji, typically welcome millions of visitors in just a few days!  As well as praying for the New Year, it’s common custom for people to draw omikuji (written fortunes) and buy omamori (amulets, or charms) to...

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New Year in Japan - Osechi-ryori (おせち料理)

New Year in Japan - Osechi-ryori (おせち料理)

While the infamous tradition of eating KFC at Christmas is true for some young people in Japan, the real star of festive Japanese cuisine is osechi-ryōri (a variety of traditional New Year’s Day foods). Like British Christmas puddings, they’re often prepared weeks or even months in advance to allow the flavours to mature.  Although osechi can be ordered many families have their own homemade recipes and, as with many Japanese New Year traditions, each osechi ingredient or dish has a special meaning. For example, kuromame (“black soybeans”) represent a wish for good wellbeing as mame can also mean “health”.     Osechi is easy to spot in stores and food halls, due...

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New Year in Japan - Nengajo (年賀状)

New Year in Japan - Nengajo (年賀状)

The Japanese tradition of sending nengajō (New Year’s greeting cards) is similar to Christmas cards, but with a whole host of unwritten rules to consider. If you think sending loved ones a card for Oshōgatsu (“New Year”) would be simple, think again! It’s important to know when, how and who to send them to.  Sending your cards after 7 January is a huge no-no! From November you’ll find hundreds of different nengajō designs to choose from at supermarkets, post offices and stationery or department stores. Some people like to create personalised cards, featuring photos of their families. Usually, when you buy nengajō they include postage so you don’t...

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New Year in Japan - Ōsouji (大掃除)

New Year in Japan - Ōsouji (大掃除)

Whilst the Christmas festivities are enjoyed in Japan, when it comes to celebrations New Year (Oshōgatsu) is the most important date in the calendar. As there are quite a few traditions, customs and decorations, we’ll be posting a couple of facts until the big day to help you ring in 2021, Japan-style.  First up...ōsouji (“big clean”). In the West it’s become an annual tradition to clear out your house as part of a “spring clean”, but in Japan people tend to wait for the winter. To welcome in the New Year, Japanese people undertake a deep clean to purify their living spaces and welcome the Shintōkami (“deity”), Toshigami,...

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