How to Celebrate New Year's Japanese-Style

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How to Celebrate New Year's Japanese-Style

How to Celebrate New Year's Japanese-Style

Even if you think you are celebrating the same holiday, how it is celebrated can vary greatly across different cultures. New Year's day is an especially significant holiday in Japanese culture filled with history, tradition, and most importantly, family. While such traditions have many variations according to region, they have more in common than not. Whether you are visiting or living here in Japan, there isn't a better opportunity to really experience Japanese culture than by reigning in the new year. Here are a few traditions you and your family can take part in to celebrate New Year's Japanese-style:

Oosouji 大掃除

Oosouji, which literally translates to 'big cleaning', takes place annually a couple of days before the end of the year. Under the Shinto tradition, Oosouji signified ridding oneself with the dust of the past year to welcome the gods for the new year and dates back to the Heian period (794-1185). Today, Oosouji can take place in many aspects of your life: your home, office, school, relationships, mind, body and soul. Children and adults alike take part in this tradition across Japan. It can be both an environmental and internal cleanse to start the new year fresh.
How to take part:
Encourage your children to go through their own clothes, toys and school supplies. Donate or give away anything they have grown out of or don't want anymore. Clothing stores like H&M and UNIQLO collect unwanted clothes to be recycled and used stores like BOOK OFF or HARD OFF are a good place to sell or donate other items. This is also a great activity to leave for your babysitter while sitting your kids. Although kids are more likely to run than jump with joy when the word 'cleaning' is uttered, as a non-parent, kids can be more responsive to another adult like their favorite babysitter. This way, you can focus on your own Oosouji too!

Toshikoshi Soba 年越しそば

Toshikoshi Soba refers to a bowl of Soba noodles eaten on the night of New Year's Eve. What goes into this bowl can vary from region to region as well as household to household. Some regions even eat Udon noodles instead of Soba noodles! It is widely believed that people started eating Soba noodles on the night of New Year's Eve during the Edo period (1603-1868) in order to live thin and long just like the noodles themselves. In addition to longevity, the noodles also represent the letting go of the past year's hardships because the noodles are easily cut while eating.
How to take part:
Soba noodles are one of the most commonly found foods in Japan. Whether you are making it on your own or going out to eat, you can find Soba almost anywhere!

Mochi Pounding 餅つき

In Japan, Mochi (rice cakes) or Mochi rice is often eaten in times of celebration all year round. It can be bought in most grocery stores in various forms irregardless of the season. However, during the New Year's holiday, many families take part in actually make the Mochi. This is done by pounding steamed Mochi rice with a traditional mallet (Kine 杵) in a mortar (Usu 碓).
Mochi Tsuki
How to take part:
In many cities, where families do not own their own tools, schools, neighborhoods and temples put on their own Mochi pounding event. If you're not sure about your neighborhood, ask your Japanese-speaking babysitter to research and take your kids Mochi pounding. Nothing compares to freshly pounded Mochi that you've slaved over yourself!

4. Hatsumoude 初詣

Hatsumode refers to the first visit to a shrine or temple in the new year. While most people visit in the first three days of January, some spend the New Year's countdown at the shrine or temple and receive their blessings right then and there. Often, the path leading up to the shrine or temple is aligned with delicious food stalls serving traditional New Year's as well as festival foods.
How to take part:
Did you know there are approximately 165,000 shrines and temples across Japan? Wherever you are on this island-nation, you are likely to run into a shrine or temple. Visit one with your family to pray for a good year together. Buy an Omikuji which predicts your fortunes for the year (many shrines provide an English translation). If you draw a bad fortune, tie it onto the provided wood to have the monks pray for better luck. You can also purchase amulets called Omamori, which is believed to protect you from many things including bad finances and poor health as well as bring you fortune in various areas of your life including your studies, travels and relationships.

Otoshidama お年玉

Every year, Japanese children look forward to receiving a colorful envelop filled with money known as Otoshidama on New Year's day. Otoshidama was traditionally given in the form of Mochi known as Kagami Mochi which is (still) placed in many homes to enshrine the gods' powers. Money began to replace Mochi sometime during the Edo period. Now, children receive money from their grandparents and relatives an amount proportionate to their age. Typically, elementary school children receive anywhere from 1,000 to 3,000 yen while younger children receive 500 to 1,000 yen.
How to take part:
Being responsible for your own money, no matter how small the amount, is good practice for children; it can be an opportunity to practice responsibility and decision-making, and develop a sense of value for money. It is up to your kids whether they want to save their Otoshidama in a piggy bank or carefully choose what to spend it on!
New Year's in Japan is filled with fun festivities and traditions but keep in mind there are some inconveniences as well: depending on where you are, businesses including stores, restaurants, clinics, museums, banks and even ATMs may be closed for one or more days between December 29 and January 4. While this is becoming less practiced in large cities like Tokyo, it's something to keep in mind and plan ahead for.
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