Little New Year
(around January 15th) 

KO-SHOGATSU;  Little New Year

ONNA-SHOGATSU;  Woman’s New Year

GENPUKU;  coming of age ritual for a boy

SEIJIN-NO-HI;  Coming-of-age Day

New Year decoration

KADO-MATSU;  a pair of traditional Japanese decoration made of pine branches and bamboo

fire festival

bonfire;  open-air fire

flame;  blaze

AZUKI-GAYU;  rice gruel with red beans

folk belief



KO-SHOGATSU is the 15th day of New Year or three days from the 14th to the 16th of January.

The days from New Year’s Day to the 15th are called MATSU-NO-UCHI, and New Year’s decorations and KADO-MATSU are placed until KO-SHOGATSU or the evening of the previous day.

However, these days, New Year’s decorations and KADO-MATSU are usually taken away on January 7th or 8th.

In some districts, KO-SHOGATSU is also called ONNA-SHOGATSU (Women’s New Year) when wives are thanked because they are very busy for New Year’s preparations and receptions of guests from the end of the year to the New Year.

On the day, some husbands do housework for their wives and some wives visit their parents’ home.

Long ago, people celebrated their GENPUKU on KO-SHOGATSU, and therefore, SEIJIN-NO-HI (Coming-of-Age Day), one of the National Holidays, was instituted in 1948 (Showa 23rd yr) as to be celebrated on January 15th.

However, it was changed to the second Monday of January, in 2000 (Heisei 12th yr), according to a new law called “Happy Monday.”


Fire festivals called SAGICHO mainly for children take place all over Japan on KO-SHOGATSU.

These fire festivals have many different names in many regions such as “DONTO-YAKI”, “TONDO-YAKI”, “SAITO-YAKI” and “SANKURO-YAKI”, and their programs and rules vary from region to region.

Many of them are connected with the festivals of DOSOSHIN (guardian deity) which are believed to be deities of evil spirit prevention and traffic safety according to folk beliefs.

Big bonfires are made in already harvested rice paddies or precincts of shrines, and New Year’s decorations and KADO-MATSU are burnt in them.

TOSHI-GAMI (a New Year Shinto deity) is sent back with rising flames while people pray and appreciate it.

KAKI-ZOME (the first calligraphy practice of the year), which is usually written on January 2nd, is also put into the fire, and it is said that people will make more progress in calligraphy as the flames of the fire rise higher.

Children are looking forward to toasting MOCHI (rice cake) or dumplings on twigs over SAGICHO and eating them.

It is also said that people will live in good health during the year if they put ash of SAGICHO on their bodies or around their houses.


Nowadays NAMAHAGE is performed in the Oga Peninsula, Akita Prefecture on New Year’s Eve, but it used to be performed on KO-SHOGATSU.

This is a very famous folk event to admonish laziness and pray for good health, abundant harvests and rich produce from mountains and oceans, and its origin dates back to the Edo Period (1603-1867).

It was designated as a National Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property in 1978 (Showa 53rd yr).

Young men, who wear a devil’s mask and a straw rain cape and have a sickle or a big kitchen knife in their hands, visit houses in their districts.

They shout out, “WARUI-KO HA INEGA!” and “NAGU-GO HA INEGA!” (“Are there any misbehaving children?” and “Are there any crying children?” in a dialect of the district) and act wildly at the homes they visit.

The masters of the homes in formal wear serve SAKE (Japanese rice wine) and food to them, and ask them to leave their homes.


The traditionally celebrated dish for KO-SHOGATSU is AZUKI-GAYU (rice gruel with red beans).

Usually people eat it on the morning of KO-SHOGATSU and sometimes put roasted MOCHI in it.




(Please see ‘My Little New Year Experience’ for further information.)