What’s Shogatsu?

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Shogatsu is the Japanese New Year celebrated from January 1st to 3rd. It is a time to be with family, complete tasks, and eat traditional foods. Customs include decorating with kadomatsu, sending nengajo, and giving otoshidama to children. Hatsuhinode and Hatsumode are important events.

Shogatsu, or oshogatsu, is the Japanese New Year. Shogatsu is celebrated from January 1st to 3rd. As a Japanese national holiday, Shogatsu is a time to be with family, and most businesses close. For the Japanese, Shogatsu not only marks the beginning of a new year, but also closes the previous year and all its events. Therefore, projects and tasks should be completed. A bonenkai party, or “forget the year party,” is a celebratory sign of leaving the previous year and all its worries.

As is the case with most holidays, Shogatsu brings with it a number of distinctive customs. Houses and entrances are traditionally decorated with kadomatsu, decorations made from pine, bamboo and plum branches.
Traditional Shogatsu foods include toshikoshi soba, a long buckwheat noodle eaten on New Year’s Eve that symbolizes long life. It is also customary to eat Osechi-ryori, a collection of traditional foods served together in the small sections of the jubako box. Each food served in the jubako box has its own symbolic meaning. For example, black soybeans symbolize health, while herring roe symbolizes many children’s perspective. Mochi, or sticky rice cakes, are made in the closing days of the year and eaten during Shogatsu. Mochis can be topped with persimmon or orange and are used as decoration as well as food.

In addition to the bonenkai feast, Shogatsu activities may include watching popular music television programs or flying kites. Games such as Hanetsuki, or Japanese badminton, and the card game karuta are also common. More traditional shogatsu activities include sending nengajo to family and friends. Nengajo are decorated cards marked with greetings and auspicious symbols.

Otoshidama, or pocket money, is traditionally given to children in colored envelopes known as otoshidama-bukuro. It is also customary to visit shrines or temples during Shogatsu. Tokyo’s Meiji Shrine, for example, draws millions of visitors during the three-day celebration.

During Shogatsu, special significance is attached to the first time one does something since the end of the previous year. Especially important is Hatsuhinode, or the first dawn of the year. After celebrating New Year’s Eve, many people go to a particular spot where they can see the sunrise clearly. Hatsumode is also of particular importance, as this is the first trip to a temple or shrine. Other notable events include hatsugama, the first tea ceremony of the year, and shigoto-hajime, the first day back to work after the Shogatsu holiday.

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