For most Australians, the end of year holiday period usually involves getting together with our loved ones, eating, and drinking way too much and then making some unrealistic resolutions for the coming year.
So, what does the end of year holiday period look like in Japan? For a start, Xmas Day is not a public holiday so if you live in Japan be prepared to work on the 25th and not start your holidays until a few days later.
The official 2020 Oshogatsu or New Year Holiday period in Japan will run from Dec 29th to Jan 3rd, 2021, and despite there not being any public holidays in December, public servants and major banks and post offices will close from December 31 through until Jan 5th. Department store workers are less fortunate as January 1st is the only day department stores will close. For most Japanese, Oshogatsu means travelling to their hometown where they grew up to spend time with relatives but there are also some rather unique traditions that take place during this time.
Nengajo – (New Year Greeting Cards)
In a similar fashion to our Xmas Cards, Nengajo are sent in the New Year. Each year, one of the 12 animals from the Chinese zodiac is represented: 2021 is the year of the Ox (Ushi in Japanese). Nengajo are still very popular in Japan with the average Japanese sending out 35 nengajo to friends, relatives and business-related acquaintances in 2019. Some people send out 100s each year!! However, Japan Post has reported a decrease of 17.4% this year receiving just 1.9 billion earlier this month. The reduction is part of a common trend as many people now choose to send their Nengajo online rather than snail mail. Nengajo are accepted at Post Offices from mid-December and then held at the Post Offices throughout Japan until January 1st when they are delivered en masse! The only time Japanese don’t send Nengajo is when there has been a death in the immediate family. In such a case, a mochu hagaki or mourning postcard is sent out in November to advise people not to send Nengajo for that year as the family will be in mourning.
Oosouji – End of Year Cleaning
While Japanese clean all year round and Springtime is also a period when everyone does a big clean, the end of year cleaning takes place at home, work and schools across the country as a way of dusting off the old year and bringing in the New Year with a new attitude!
KadoMatsu – New Year Decoration
These decorative pieces are placed in the entrances of homes and businesses between Dec 28 and January 7 as a lucky omen. They come in a variety of shapes, styles and sizes but always include bamboo and pine needles. They range in price from just a few dollars to several hundred dollars.
ShimeKazari- (New Year Wreaths)
These come in a variety of shapes and sizes and are placed on the front door of a family’s home or above the family shrine within the home to welcome the god of the coming year. By placing them on the front door of a family home, it is believed to keep bad luck from entering the home.
KagamiMochi- (Round Rice Cake Offering)
Two rice cakes of differing sizes are placed on top of a stand and displayed either on the floor, a shelf or on the family alter. The form is said to be representative of mirrors in ancient Japan and mirrors are supposed to be a border between this life and the next. These rice cakes are another way of welcoming good fortune for the coming year and are usually displayed between Dec 28 and Jan 11. These days many families purchase plastic versions to display rather than using real mochi.
Toshi Koshi Soba – (Soba Noodles Eaten on New Years Eve)
Buckwheat noodles are used as opposed to Udon Noodles because they are thinner and easier to ‘cut.’ Eating (cutting) the long, thin noodles is supposed to symbolise severing any difficulties from the previous year and hoping for a long and healthy life passing into the next year. ToshiKoshiSoba is eaten just before midnight!!
Hatsu Hinode – (Sunrise on New Year’s Day)
Japanese believe that the God of the new year appears as the sun rises on New Years Day signalling the start of the New Year, bringing health and happiness with it.
Hatsu Moude – (First visit to a Shrine or Temple in the New Year)
Most Japanese will do Hatsumoude between January 1st and 3rd when the majority of people are on holidays. Many Japanese use this opportunity to wear traditional Kimono and pray to the kamisama for the coming year. In Tokyo, both Meiji Shrine and Sensoji Temple are *each* visited by over 3 million people in the first few days of the year.
Osechi Ryori – (Special New Year Dishes)
Osechi Ryori are the traditional, celebratory dishes served between January 1st – 3rd in bento box-like containers called Jubako that are stacked one on top of the other to symbolise creating layers of happiness for the coming year. Osechi Ryori typically includes: grilled, simmered, and pickled dishes along with the indispensable Iwai Zakana Sanshu or 3 celebratory dishes, which are herring roe, black beans and small dried sardines. It would normally take many days to prepare such dishes, so these days a lot of Japanese either order their Osechi Ryori dishes from department stores or purchase the individual dishes at the local supermarket and then place them into their own jubako at home to serve in the traditional manner.