New Year in Japan – Experiencing Oshogatsu in Style
New Year is that time of the year when you want to indulge in excitement and thrill to begin your year with a blast. Until this year, my New Year celebrations usually revolve around getting to some cool place to watch the countdown and celebrate the New Year with fireworks and friends.
However, this year was very different. Indeed, Japan is the place to be if you want to celebrate your New Year’s Day in the most unusual and exciting way. It was one of the most memorable experiences I had in Japan.
I would never forget the exquisite style of celebrating the New Year (oshogatsu) the Japanese way. I got to witness the Japanese New Year traditions at my warmhearted Japanese friend’s home – meaningful, relaxing and surrounded with an air of kindness and love.
I learnt that oshogatsu is a very important holiday in all of Japan, in honor of new year celebrations, most business shut down for around two days, and families typically get together to celebrate it in union. My friend Mizuki told me that, in Japan, ‘bonenkai’ parties are held before the oshogatsu to bid farewell to last year’s troubles, which really fascinated me.
Celebrated with the same jubilance and fervor as Christmas, the New Year celebrations start a few days before the year ends and continue for almost a week. On the peaceful New Year Eve, me and my friend’s family ate ‘toshikoshi’ soba noodles, that symbolize long life and health, to welcome the New Year and cheered with Japanese sake.
As I witnessed the celebrations throughout the week, I realized that Japanese culture is full of rich traditions. Delicious and mouthwatering Oshogatsu meals are perhaps the most outstanding aspect of New Year festivities, as I got to eat various tantalizing dishes that were especially prepared for the occasion, and instilled with special and overwhelming meanings to bring fortune in the year ahead.
I learned that eating the ‘O-sechi ryori’ which is considered to bring good luck and was made of shrimp, chestnut, seaweed, pork, and eggs. The ‘O-zoni’ was another fantastic dish, made of sticky rice cake served in a yummy fish broth. I will definitely remember these meals forever.
Oshogatsu is also characterized by the extravagant decorations that enliven the localities with a mix of sparkling colors and meaningful undertones of prosperity. The Oshogatsu motif was an important part of the decorations that enlivened homes and storefronts.
I saw the ‘kadomatsu’, another New Year decoration, which was an arrangement of flowers, pine, and bamboo, placed outside many houses and Mizuki told me this was a sign of welcoming the gods for the New Year.
Mizuki also gifted me a calligraphy scroll wishing good fortune, which overwhelmed me, and in return I bought the Oshogatsu motif to gift to her.
Mizuki’s parents gave otoshidama to all their children and I was excited to get one as well; these were envelopes printed with Japanese characters containing money, I was greatly warmed by Mizuki’s family’s generosity.
Mizuki, also took me to the year’s first shrine visit to pray for good fortune for the year. The shrine was full of hundreds of people, and a sacred white horse was being given a lot of attention by them. After praying, we visited the myriad food stalls and ate broiled fish cakes, and salad picked in sweet vinegar, which were the more traditional Japanese New Year foods, and also saw a fireworks display nearby the shrine.
Every New Year brings back profound memories of the Japanese New Year Celebrations. The delectable dishes, the generosity, and the meaning imbued traditions, render so much charm to the Japanese celebrations that I miss them a lot.
One should definitely celebrate Oshogatsu with the Japanese once in their life – it’s a memorable and delightful experience.