明けましておめでとう!

今年も宜しくお願いします!Happy new year!

In mainland Japan, the new year (正月, shougatsu) is celebrated according to the modern Gregorian calendar. In Okinawa, the new year is still predominantly celebrated with the Chinese lunar calendar, along with Korea, China, and Vietnam.

From what I gather, for Japanese people, the new year is like Christmas is to Americans; it is the holiday of the year. Businesses shut down, some for an entire week. Families in America send out Christmas greeting cards; families in Japan send out new years greeting cards (年賀状, nengajou).

Here are some Japanese new years traditions:

鏡餅 (kagami mochi)

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Kagami mochi is a stack of two or three dry mochi balls with a だいだい (Japanese bitter orange) on top (today, みかん, or Japanese tangerines are substituted for the だいだい). These are placed in homes, businesses, and cars. The two mochi are said to symbolize the coming and going years and the orange to symbolize the continuation of generations.

おせち料理 (osechi ryouri), traditional New Years food

おせち料理

In Japan, the housewives spend the days leading up up to new years day preparing a buttload of food. Then new years eve night, they gather at one friend’s house and they all do tradeoffs, so you come away with a whole variety of dishes (so it’s kind of like our Thanksgiving, where everyone cooks one dish and packs a big to-go box, so you go home with several different dishes). Then your family eats those leftovers the first few days of the new year. I guess the idea is that since the family is tied over with leftovers, the housewife can relax for the first days of the new year.

Traditionally, many of the dishes are pickled, so they last longer. Likewise, there are never chicken dishes, because chicken easily spoils. Today, the large batches of sechi are kept in the fridge, but the family eats only from the juubako (重箱), a set of nesting lacquered boxes in which the vibrant-colored food is beautifully arranged. The juubako is replenished until there is no sechi left.

Sechi dishes each have their own meanings. For example, shrimps are good for long life because if you grow very old, you will eventually be bent over like a shrimp. Kazunoko (数の子) is herring roe for many children (keep that shit away from me). The red and white kamaboko are symbolic of the Japanese national colors (紅白). And so on, so forth.

The sechi that I had wasn’t only traditional ryouri. It was also mixed with salami and cheese — just whatever will last, is colorful, festive, etc.

More info on sechi here.

I also had some おぞに (ozoni), a clear broth soup with mochi. I love this stuff. I really need to make my own one year. A side note, there are many mochi-related deaths every year, particularly from old people choking on the mochi. Strange but true.

紅白歌合戦 (kouhaku uta gassen)

Kouhaku Uta Gassen is an annual singing contest show aired on new years eve. The tradition is akin to Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve. Kouhaku Uta Gassen invites Japan’s singers to a men versus women song contest (the red team, 紅, is represented by the women and the white team, 白, is represented by the men).

お年玉 (otoshidama)

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Otoshidama are monetary gifts given to young children, much like the Chinese li shi (red envelopes).