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Senso-ji temple New Year

Some Facts to Know About Japanese New Year

Japan adopted the standard Gregorian calendar in 1873. Prior to that, the Japanese New Year followed the lunisolar calendar as the Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese New Year which had the event usually at the beginning of spring. The 1st of January has since been the official New Year’s Day for Japan is considered to be one of the most important festivals of the year and has been celebrated with unique customs and traditions for centuries.

Shōgatsu traditions

New Year or Shōgatsu in Japan is celebrated from the 1st of January to the 3rd of January.   Many Japanese mark the arrival of the New Year with age old traditions that haven’t changed much since they were first observed. Check out some of the unique Shōgatsu customs in Japan.

osechi-ryori 2023

Traditional New Year meal

The tradition of having osechi-ryōri (御節料理 or お節料理) on New Year in Japan began during the Heian Period (794-1185). Osechi are similar to bento meals, only they are in more elaborate special boxes called jūbako (重箱). The term osechi was derived from o-sechi, meaning a season or significant period. In Japan, Shōgatsu was considered one of the five seasonal festivals in the Imperial Court in Kyoto. In olden times, during the first three days of the new year, it was unthinkable to use a hearth and cook meals. Osechi was prepared days ahead of the celebration as women were not allowed to cook.

2023 nengajo

New Year postcards

Nengajo (年賀状) is a Western-like custom of giving holiday greeting cards to relatives and friends. This custom can be traced back to the custom of nenshi-mawari, or New Year’s visits. The Japanese post office started issuing postcards during the Meiji period (1868-1929) and still delivers millions of nengajo each year until today.

Pocket money for kids

Otoshidama is a long-standing Japanese tradition during this holiday is to give money to children such as young nieces and nephews. Money is placed in small, decorated envelopes called pochibukuro.

First temple visit for the year

The first trip to a shrine or temple in the beginning of the year is known as Hatsumōde. These sacred places are crowded during New Year’s Eve and the next few days. Visitors dress up in kimonos if weather permits. Popular shrines around Japan have a festive atmosphere with food stands and crowds gathering for their first visit to a shrine or temple for the year.

Happy New Year, one and all!

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Read all about Japanese immersion learning and studying abroad. Check out our eZasshi archives for more articles!