Start Your New Year with These Japanese Traditions

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Tags: eventsgourmetjapanese culturepop cultureshrinestemples

Christmas is finally over. It’s time to focus on the New Year. Did you know that the Japanese have their own customs and traditions when it comes to celebrating New Year?

Shogatsu or also known as New Year is an important day for the Japanese. They start the year by doing things that can bring them good fortune and prosperity all year long. Some of the traditions might sound weird especially to the non-Japanese, but, it’s a good thing to know one or two important aspects of their traditions. If you want to start your year by following the traditions, we will provide you with the list of things you must do for New Year.

Image Source: Traveller.

Spring-cleaning your house

Firstly, it is super important to clean your house inside out. The Japanese called it osouji. This spring cleaning activity is practised by most Japanese because they believed that it will be a fresh start for the new year. Other than that, they also believed that The Year God will come to visit their house. Therefore, it is extremely crucial to have a clean house for both your families and the Year God. Besides the house, the Japanese will also clean their office.

108 bell rings

Have you ever questioned why shrines and temples are packed with people during the first week of January? The term hatsumode indicates the first shrine visit of the year. Japanese will go to shrines to pray, make wishes and renew their good luck charms here. Those who came early will have the chance to be one of the 108 people to ring the bell ritual known as Joya no Kane. The Buddhist believes that the 108 bell rings represent the 108 sins committed by people.

Image Source: Rakuten Travel.

If you want to try this ritual, most shrines and temples in Japan are open during the night of New Year. So, be prepared for massive crowds and be there early so you can ring the bell. Furthermore, you can also visit small shrines or temples as it is not as crowded as Japan’s famous shrines like the Asakusa Sensoji Temple. Annually, hatsumode will attract more than a million visitors.

Catch the first sunrise of the year

Image Source: VOA News.

Other than hatsumode, one of the Japanese traditions is to catch the first sunrise of the year. Some people will watch the sunrise at beautiful places like the beach and mountainous areas. It is said that by watching the sunrise on the first day, you will have a good start to your year. This tradition is called as hatsuhinode.

Send greeting postcards to your friends and family

Another great tradition in Japan is called nengajo. This tradition was carried out many years ago where people will send greeting postcards to their friends and family. Surprisingly, these postcards will be delivered to the recipients on the first day of the year. However, this tradition is not widely used by the younger generations as they prefer to send text messages or posting their New Year wishes on social media. But, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try this culture. You can purchase these postcards at any convenience stores if you would like to experience nengajo.

Image Source: Boing Boing.

Purchase lucky bags with super cheap price

One of the most anticipated events of the year is the fukubukuro or known as lucky bags. Every 1st January, most Japan stores will organize this New Year sale where they will place several mystery items inside the lucky bags. Then, they will sell the bags with prices cheaper than the value of the items inside the bags. The only catch is that you will not know what is inside the bag.

Furthermore, to get the best deals, people will queue all night long as there will be a massive crowd the next day. Some tips from the locals, if you don’t like what you got from the lucky bags, you can exchange it with your friends or even sell it online.

Image Source: Nice Japan.

Good food leads to a good year

During the New Year, people will usually eat osechi ryori. This dish is prepared in a size of a bento box called jubako with a variety of foods that carries special meaning. It is to be eaten using a special chopstick known as Iwai-bashi. The chopstick has thin ends at both sides because they believed that the other end of the chopstick will be used by their god.

Some of the foods included in the jubako box are basically the Datemaki (an omelette), Kuri-Kinton (sweet chestnuts), Kobu-Maki (kelp), Kuromame (black beans), Renkon (lotus root) and others. The Japanese will eat osechi ryori at the beginning of the year because the dish symbolizes prosperity, good fortune, longevity and happiness.

Image Source: Tokyo Weekender.

Kagami Mochi

Besides osechi ryori, Kagami mochi is also an essential part to start your new year. The meaning behind Kagami mochi is it signifies prosperity for generations to generations. Kagami mochi is usually decorated with two round-shaped mochis placed on top of each other and it is topped with an orange called daidai and a leaf. Another name for Kagami mochi is mirror rice cake because a long time ago, the Japanese will normally use mirrors during religious ceremony. Hence, they named it a mirror rice cake. Most people will only buy the ready-made Kagami mochi as the preparation can takes a lot of time.

Image Source: Plugon.

Happiness lies in a bowl of ozoni

Other than that, ozoni is also Japanese main foods to eat during new year. They usually eat ozoni during the first three days of the year where they will continuously pray for the good health and happiness for their family members. Ozoni consists of mochi rice cakes infused in miso soup or clear broth. Sometimes, they will add ingredients like vegetables according to its meaning and particularly, to add more flavour.

Image Source: Blissful Wine Adventures.

Giving money to children

During the New Year, most Japanese families will give money in attractive envelopes to children. The older the children, the more money they will receive. They usually will give money ranging from ¥3,000 to ¥10,000 depending on how much they can afford. This tradition is called otoshidama. The purpose of this tradition is to allow children to buy things they need in the future and to show gratitude to one another.

Image Source: For Better Life.

What do you think about these Japanese customs and traditions for New Year? If you happen to be in Japan this New Year, be sure to try at least one of the traditions mentioned above to have a good start of the year. Happy New Year from us!


A fun-loving group of editorial team on the mission to introduce Japanese culture and lifestyle to the masses.


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