Japanese New Year

The end is near! (And a new beginning too)

Christmas is over and Japan’s biggest holiday is here. Everyone is busy running around trying to prepare. Food prices are going up and students are enjoying their holidays. Not much for a foreign guy to do except stay home and hide from the crowds.

Truly secular

Japan isn’t a religious country. There are very old practices stemming from Shinto and Buddhist beliefs, but they’re pretty much just habits now. And the grandest occasions for some of these practices is New Year’s. If you were to compare holidays, the Japanese New Year’s holiday is like Christmas.

Traditions

Japanese New Year (Shogatsu) begins well before the first of January. The biggest thing for most people is the New Year’s post cards. The number of cards depends on the family, but I know some people who have to send somewhere around 300. Yeah, it pretty much brings the postal service here to a grinding halt!

A great migration

The next thing is coming home. Many people return to their home towns and spend the 3 day holiday together. It’s a chance for people who have been away to meet their childhood friends as well. It always amazes me that people here keep in touch even with people they know only in elementary school.

The next thing is the traditional food,osechi. Before there was refrigeration, food couldn’t be kept without means of preservation. For the 3 day holiday, traditionally there is no cooking. So food is cooked with high amounts of salt and or sugar. Needless to say, it isn’t necessarily the best. Traditional food takes a long time to cook too. So nowadays, most people buy osechi or just eat regular food and go out to eat.

Not in Kansas anymore

Then there is New Year’s day. Back home, things are noisy when midnight comes. Sadly, guns have in some part replaced fireworks. But in Japan, it’s quiet, very quiet! If you live near a shrine that has a bell, you can hear the bell ring and that’s it. The interesting thing is that people are out and about. There is a tradition of visiting 3 shrines after the midnight hour.

So this year, I’ll be in Japan for New Year’s. A perfect time for me to stay home and hide from the crowds.

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