Just as the Christmas party is ending, the New Year’s party is just around the corner!
New Year’s is one of the most important occasions for all Japanese. Most Japanese people go back to their home town and spend time with their family, wishing for the future health of every family member. We have time off from work starting at the end of December through the beginning of January, however, the exact timing depends on your job.
On December 31, New Year’s Eve, we eat a wonderful meal while watching singers on a famous TV show. Around midnight, when TV show ends, we cook noodles called “toshikoshi soba”, which are made from buckwheat. The reason we eat “toshikoshi soba” is to have a longer life (noodles are long). Also, “toshi” means year, “koshi” means to cross over, so we wish for good luck crossing over from this year to the next year. We eat the noodles and listen to the striking bell at the temple to see this year out and ring the New Year in!
After eating or on New Year’s Day, some people go to the shrine to pray for peace and happiness for this year. You will see a coin box made of wood and a big bell at the shrine. The way to worship is to throw coins into the wooden box, ring the bell, bow twice, clap your hands twice, and bow again.
Speaking of typical Japanese New Year’s cuisine, on January 1st we have a special, beautiful cuisine called “osechi ryouri”. You can cook it home, but it takes a few days, so people tend to buy it at Japanese restaurants. Each ingredient has a special meaning, such as good health, good harvest, happiness, prosperity, long life and so on. At the same time, we often eat “mochi (rice cake)” or “zouni”, a type of mochi that we bake and put into a soup with vegetables.
Normally, adults should give some money to their own or their relatives’ children. This is a painful event for adults. But personally, and perhaps for others as well, when I give money to children and see their cute, happy faces, it makes me smile, too!
Finally, we will give New Year’s cards to our friends, relatives, and colleagues. We usually buy New Year’s lottery postal cards. There is number at the bottom of the card, and if the number matches the number you find in the newspaper (which is published later), you win some money or a gift! Nowadays, young people do not send New Year’s cards very often, but instead tend to say “Happy New Year” via cell phone.
We decorate a little in front or inside of the house. New Year’s decorations are made to welcome in the gods at the beginning of the year. They consist of propitious decorations. Shime kazari should be hung at the entrance door. Kadomatsu should be put both on both side of gates. Kazari mochi should be displayed at the alcova or on the shelf.
These days, we do not play games very often, but in the past when I was a child, many people enjoyed playing games. I will introduce some of them:
Hanetsuki: A game like badminton for two people, where the shuttlecock is hit with wooden racket.
Takoage: This was a more common activity than hanetsuki in which children fly kites. Kites are of various shapes and unique in decoration.
Karuta: A traditional game in which people compete to pick up picture cards that match opening lines read out aloud by a referee from proverbs and ancient Japanese poems.
Hanafuda: Also a card game like karuta but played with two people. The player throws a card at a card of the same suit to capture them. The winner is the one who makes a special combination of several cards. Personally, I like this game the most.
Fukuwarai: This is a bit similar to the game “pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey”. You have two pieces of eyes, eyebrows, ears, one nose and mouth. Close your eyes with a blindfold and place them on the outline of the face.
We usually celebrate in traditional ways on New Year’s Day. I like the New Year party because I can get together with my family, relatives, and friends living in other cities. It is always a lot of fun! How do you celebrate New Years?