Oshogatsu (お正月) is the Japanese New Year and it’sthe most important holiday in Japan. Celebrations are filled with traditions and customs. If you’re lucky to be in Japan during oshogatsu, join the locals in the new year festivities and participate some of the customs.
Preparations for oshogatsu start early as the Japanese carry out osoji, the annual big clean-up, to freshen up their homes and workplaces and herald the new year, shinnen (新年). It’s believed that Toshigami, the god that brings good luck for the new year, will visit every household on the first of January. Homes and offices are decorated with decorations like kadomatsu (門松), an ornamental decoration 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 end of the year is a hectic period for post offices as the Japanese send out nengajo (New Year cards) to their relatives, friends, and colleagues. These cards are special postcards with designed with new year greetings and auspicious drawings. The senders express their thanks to the recipients who have shown kindness throughout the year and best wishes for the new year
Hatsumode is the annual visit to a shrine or temple to pray for good wishes for the new year on the last day of the year or the first few days of the new year. The shrines and temples are busy with special set ups for new year prayers and stalls selling food and drinks. Crowds gather in popular shrines and temples, especially those considered to be power spots, from the night of 31 December. People are eager to pray, give offerings, and ring the bell when the clock strikes at midnight. Other hatsumode customs include getting an omikuji (おみくじ), a slip of paper telling your fortune, and buying omamori (お守り), good luck charms.
A special oshogatsu custom to view the first sunrise of the year with your loved ones. The first sunrise that brightens the skies in the morning of the first of January is called hatsuhinode. The Japanese believe that viewing the first sunrise will bring good luck for the new year. Popular places for hatsuhinode gatherings: mountains, lookout points or observatories, and even beaches. Opening hours are extended at most viewing spots for this once-in-a-year occasion.
A fukubukuro is a lucky bag that contains an assortment of items packaged in a mystery bag in shops from the first day of January. The attraction of fukubukuro is that these bags are filled with bundles of goodies from clothes to electronics to even food and they are sold at fixed discounted price. Depending on your luck, you may open the bag and find all your favorite items at a bargain.Find out more about fukubukuro and tips for buying one here.
Oshogatsu is also the time to indulge in New Year’s food with your family and friends. Find out more about special festive food to enjoy during the Japanese New Year here.
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.