Akemashite omedeto gozaimasu (明けましておめでとうございます)! This Japanese greeting welcomes the beginning of the new year in Japan. The Japanese New Year is known as oshogatsu (お正月) and celebrated in Japan with special customs and traditions.
Here’s a guide to Japan’s most important holiday and festive food to enjoy with families.
Preparations for oshogatsu start early as the Japanese carry out osoji (大掃除), the annual big clean-up, to freshen up their homes and workplaces to herald the new year, shinnen (新年). It’s popular to put up new year decorations like kadomatsu (門松), which is made of bamboo and pine leaves, and braided straw ropes, shimekazari (注連飾り), to ward off bad spirits and bring in positive energy.
The first of January is a very auspicious day and the Japanese enjoy spending time with families and friends. Some popular activities to do on the first few days of the new year are hatsuhinode (初日の出)–watching the first sunrise of the year, and hatsumode (初詣), the first shrine or temple visit of the year.
Special Food for Oshogatsu
To usher in the new year, Japanese people prepare and eat special dishes. Traditionally, people tried not to cook during oshogatsu as they believed that using fire or working during the festive period would bring bad luck. Thus, food for the new year celebrations were prepared in advance and many dishes were pickled and made with preservatives so they could last longer. Nowadays, a wide selection of oshogatsu food can be purchased conveniently at stores. Check out the different types of festive food below!
Osechi Ryori (おせち料理)
Osechi ryori is the traditional meal enjoyed on the first of January. This festive food consists of many small dishes served in a multi-layered box (jubako) that is decorated beautifully. Each dish represents a blessing or a wish for the new year. Find out more about osechi ryori here.
Toshikoshi Soba (年越し蕎麦)
Don’t forget to eat toshikoshi soba on New Year’s Eve. This bowl buckwheat noodles is symbolic as the long noodles represents longevity. When you cut the noodles, you’re removing bad luck and hardship from the passing year. If you finish the entire bowl of soba, you can enjoy good luck for the new year.
Mochi is a classic New Year food as the Japanese believe that sticky rice cake brings good fortune. The traditional way of pounding rice to make mochi, mochitsuki (餅つき), is practised in local communities and even some households. You’ll see kagami mochi (鏡もち), also called mirror rice cake, a special good luck decoration featuring two round-shaped mochi topped with an orange in most Japanese homes during oshogatsu.
Slurp a hot pipping bowl of ozoni in the morning of New Year’s Day. This simple but tasty bowl of soup is made using a variety of ingredients like mochi, vegetables, and meat. Different regions customize their ozoni using local products and different soup bases like dashi and miso. It’s a common practice to break kagami mochi into pieces and add them to the soup as the mochi pieces are believed to be blessed by the Gods.
Nothing warms up the body better than a hot beverage in the wintry months of December and January. Amazake is a celebratory drink that is usually served during oshogatsu, especially in shrines and temples. Amazake is a sweet and milky drink that is either low-alcohol or alcohol-free.
Oshogatsu is the most important holiday in Japan. Learn more about the traditions and customshere.
About the author:
Wendy writes about her travel experiences to escape from her city life in Singapore. Her content creator’s journey started when she had the opportunity to live and teach in Okinawa and circumvent the world with Peace Boat. A compulsive-obsessive traveler and culture enthusiast, she believes that when we know more, we travel better. Or in true foodie spirit, when we eat more, we travel better.