On New Year's morning, we would all dress in our festive kimonos and
gather in the living room for the special first meal of the year. For
the occasion we would use lacquerware bowls and dishes, which were set
out on small individual tray-tables. Each member of the family would
use a pair of wooden chopsticks reserved especially for the New Year's
holiday. As part of the "blessings from the mountains."
After exchanging New Year's greetings, we would eat the New Year's
foods, along with a special soup, called ozoni, containing pounded rice
cakes. The other ingredients of ozoni vary depending on the region and
the family. My mother used to make hers Kyoto style, with white bean
paste, and I make mine the same way. After breakfast, all members of
the household, including the employees of the shop, sat in front of
father, waiting for their turn to tell him their New Year's resolutions
and receive the traditional New Year's gift money called otoshidama.
Around this time the postman would come around delivering the New
Many people pay a visit to the local shrine on New Year's Eve, but we
usually went the next morning after breakfast, when it wasn't so
crowded. At the shrine we would say a prayer and draw a sacred lot to
learn our New Year's fortune. We would also bring our old good luck
amulet and exchange it for a new one.
New Year's Day is traditionally spent with family members and close
relatives. In our family, all the aunts, uncles, and cousins gathered
at my grandmother's house to eat, drink, talk, and play games. This was
one of the few times during the year when we would see all of our
cousins at once. There were nearly twenty children in the house running
around, playing, and fighting.
Traditional belief holds that engaging in a lesson or hobby on the
second day of the New Year will improve one's skills in it, and so on
that day we had to do our first calligraphy of the year and show it to
our parents. My father would fetch fresh water from the well, which we
used to make ink by rubbing it with the solid ink stick on the ink
stone. The smell of the fresh ink would make me think about the plans
and dreams I had for the New Year. We would write auspicious words, our
New Year's resolutions, or just words we liked, and the resulting
calligraphy was displayed in the house until January 15, the day that
marks the official end of the New Year's celebration.
After we did our calligraphy, we were allowed to go out and play with
our friends while the adults visited friends and neighbors, exchanging
the traditional New Year's words of greeting. We children would show
off our hagoita and compete with kites and tops.
The three days of New Year's celebrations passed quickly. Before we
knew it, we were back in school, and the adults had gone back to their
old routine. Today, not as many people go through such extensive
preparations for New Year's, and a lot of the things that were familiar
to me as New Year's customs are gone. Pre-prepared New Year's foods are
sold at department stores and have become very popular because women
now often lack the time or ambition to prepare the traditional foods
themselves but still want to be able to serve them. Stores now reopen
on the second or third day of the New Year. In the city, I rarely see
people pounding rice anymore, and the kadomatsu decoration is out of
I believe, however, that the spirit and significance of New Year's
continue to survive in Japan. People still get together with family and
friends, giving thanks for the past year, wishing each attitude and
feelings. I hope that my children will cherish their childhood New
Year's memories and pass on to the next generation the customs I taught
them. And I hope that I will eventually be visited by my children and
grandchildren on New Year's and have a big family gathering like those
my grandmother used to have.
What religious beliefs are reflected in the traditional Japanese New Year's celebration?
Describe some Japanese New Year's traditions, explaining the background of each. In what respects has the Japanese New Year's celebration changed? How has it remained the same?
Are any aspects of the Japanese celebration similar to an American holiday celebration? Different?