元旦 (1月1日)と
National Holiday

New Year’s Day (January 1st)
and O-shogatsu, New Year (from January 1st to the 15th)

●元旦 gantan; New Year’s Day
●お正月 O-shogatsu; New Year
●正月休み New Year holiday
●祝い celebration
●新年の抱負 New Year’s resolution
●神社 (Shinto) shrine
●年賀状 New Year’s greeting card
●書き初め Kakizome; first calligraphy practice;
special New Year calligraphy
●お年玉 O-toshidama; New Year’s gift; (お年玉や祝い)handsel
●餅 mochiI; rice cake
●交通渋滞 traffic jam; holdup; 【米Am.】(交通事故などによる)tie-up
●伝統 tradition

In Japan, the most important holiday season of the year is O-shogatsu, New Year’s Celebration.

Since many Japanese think of each year as an independent unit, it represents a new beginning, and starting it correctly is very significant.

O-shogatsu is from January 1st to the 7th or the15th, but the first three days, Sanganichi are the most important.

The New Year’s holiday is the longest holiday in Japan, about 1 week long, in addition to the Golden Week from the end of April and the O-bon holiday in August.

Schools have a winter vacation around December 24th through to about January 7th.

Company employees also have a New Year holiday, usually between December 30th and January 3rd or 4th.

Preparations for O-shogatsu usually begin in the middle of December.

Families clean their house thoroughly to welcome the New Year’s gods.

The gates or the doors of houses are decorated with a pair of kado-matsu.

These are arrangements of straw, bamboo, branches of pine and plum, and so on.

Above the front door, people hang shime-kazari to purify the home and to prevent evil spirits from entering.

This decoration consists of a bitter orange, fern leaves, straw, decorative paper, and other ornaments.

We can see many shapes of shime-kazari, and various materials are used.

Indoors, kagami-mochi adorns an important place such as tokonoma (alcove) for a New Year’s Shinto god.

A small round rice cake rests on a larger round rice cake, and is placed on sampo, a special stand.

Additional materials, such as a bitter orange, a lobster, dried persimmons, kelp, fern leaves, decorative paper, and so on, decorate the kagami-mochi.

Kagami-mochi is first split and is eaten in a traditional ritual called Kagami-biraki on January 11th.

Formally, kagami-mochi is not cut with a knife, but is split with a mallet before being eaten as baked mochi or zenzai (sweetened adzuki-bean soup with mochi in it).

Hatsu-mode, meaning the first shrine or temple visit of the year, begins shortly after midnight on New Year’s Day and continues until midnight of January 3rd.

People pray for such things as health, happiness, prosperity in business, and so on, for the year.

Some people climb mountains and wait and pray for the first sunrise of the New Year, which is called Hatsu-hinode, one of the Japanese traditional rituals of O-shogatsu.

The most popular spot for Hatsu-hinode is Mt.Fuji because it is the highest and most beautiful mountain in Japan.

On the morning of the 1st, families gather together to formally drink o-toso, spiced sake (Japanese rice wine).

During O-shogatsu people eat o-zoni: a soup of either plain broth or miso broth containing mochi (rice cakes), and vegetables.

Sometimes fish or chicken is added, and the soup and the ingredients vary from region to region.

Another special food for O-shogatu is osechi-ryori, which is prepared at the end of December.

Osechi-ryori is traditional New Year’s dishes served in a set of lacquer-ware boxes.

They are various lucky and meaningful dishes, arranged artistically.

Preparing these dishes in advance allows housewives to take a short break from their usual daily cooking.

People can order Osechi-ryori from department stores or restaurants, saving the trouble of preparing these elaborate dishes.

Nengajo, or New Year’s greeting cards, which are delivered together in a bundle, bring great pleasure.

Nengajo allow people to come to know how relatives and friends have been getting along, especially those whom they’ve had few chances to see during the year.

The most organized people start writing Nengajo is at the beginning of November; some write wholeheartedly in Japanese black ink with a writing brush, and some draw a picture of “Eto” (the animal sign of the year among the Twelve Animal Signs of the Oriental Zodiac) or print it by a woodcut.

Though Nengajo can be ordered from printers, computers and printers for family use make more and more people print Nengajo at home.

Photos of families and pets often appear on Nengajo, and it sometimes plays the role of an announcement of a wedding or a newborn baby with a photo.

Nengajo posted from the middle of December around to the 25th are supposed to be delivered on New Year’s Day.

Recently, more and more people, especially the young, send their New Year’s message by e-mails or SNS.

A lot of people spend the New Year vacation in their hometown.

During the long New Year holiday, people also travel around Japan or overseas.

Travel facilities are very crowded, and there are terrible traffic jams, and accommodation and package tours are much more expensive.

O-shogatsu is especially exciting for children.

During this time, children look forward to O-toshidama, a New Year’s gift.

This is a gift of money from parents and relatives to children.

How much each child receives varies according to age and circumstances.

This custom dates back to the Muromachi era (1392-1573), when warriors and nobles exchanged gifts.

During the Meiji era (1868-1912), gifts of money to children became more popular.

Special New Year’s games are Tako-age (kite flying), Koma-mawashi (top spinning), and Hane-tsuki (Japanese badminton).

Some enjoy playing Hyakunin-isshu, a type of card game.

There are 200 cards in total and 100 are reading cards, which hold the first half of famous 100 waka (a 5-7-5-7-7 syllable Japanese traditional poem) each by a different person.

The other 100 cards are playing cards, which hold the latter half of waka.

When the first half of waka on the reading card is read, the players look for the card which holds the latter half of waka matching to the reading card among the playing cards placed on the tatami (straw mats).

Children are absorbed in computer games; therefore, Japanese traditional games aren’t as common these days.

One traditional custom which is disappearing, especially in the cities, is Shishi-mai.

This Chinese lion dance, accompanied by a flute and a drum, is thought to drive away evil spirits.

On the 2nd, some Japanese do their first calligraphy practice of the year.

This traditional custom is called Kakizome, and some write their New Year’s resolutions.

Kakizome is said to have originated from “Kissho-hajime”, one of the annual events at court, and Kakizome became popular among common people in the Edo period (1603-1868).

It is said that if a piece of Kakizome paper is put into the fire of Sagicho (the fire of Ko-shogatsu Festival) and the flames of the fire rise higher, its writer can make more progress in calligraphy.

The dream people have on the night of the 1st or 2nd is called Hatsu-yume.

It is said that a dream of Mt. Fuji is the luckiest, that of a hawk is the second luckiest, and that of an eggplant is the third.

It is said that people will have a good Hatsu-yume, if they put a picture of Takara-bune (the treasure ship) with Shichi-fukujin (the Seven Lucky Deities) under their pillow.

◆1月7日には七草粥を食べる人もいます。 それは7つの春の食べることができる薬草が入った特別なお粥です。
On January 7th, some people eat Nanakusa-gayu, which is special rice gruel with seven edible spring herbs.

It is said that Nanakusa-gayu keeps people healthy throughout the year.

Nanakusa-gayu also helps to rejuvenate the stomach and intestines, which have worked hard, during the O-shogatsu feasting.

On the 4th, most people return to work, as the main three days of O-shogatsu come to an end.

Year after year, people have been increasingly simplifying their preparations for the New Year’s Celebration, yet Japanese still think much of O-shogatsu.


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