Celebrating Japanese New Year

The New Year is almost here, and people all over the world are excited to greet it in their own ways. In Japan, the New Year (正月 shōgatsu) is the most significant holiday in the year. Preparations begin days beforehand in honor of the occasion.

Japanese New Year is celebrated on January 1, but that has not always been the case. Before the 1900s, the date of the event followed the Chinese lunar calendar, similar to the Chinese, Vietnamese, and the Korean New Year. When Japan started using the Gregorian calendar in 1873, the New Year became the 1st of January.

Japan has many traditions to honor the coming of the new year.

Osechi—an assortment of selected dishes special to New Year celebrations. Dishes include kamaboko (fish cakes), kurikinton (mashed sweet potato with chestnut), konbu (boiled seaweed), kuromame (sweetened black soybeans), sushi, and sashimi.



Ozōni – a traditional dish served for the New Year celebration is ozōni, a soup that has mochi rice cake and other local ingredients.

Kadomatsu—a bamboo-pine arrangement placed at the entrance of the home to symbolize good fortune and strength for the year ahead. This practice dates back 400 years.

Children with otoshidama

Children with otoshidama.

Otoshidama—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.

Hatsumōde—the first trip to a shrine or temple in the new year. These sacred places are crowded during New Year’s Eve and the next few days. Visitors dress up in kimonos if weather permits.

Temple bells—on New Year’s Eve, Japanese Buddhist temples ring their bells 108 times to signify the 108 human sins, as well as to get rid of the worldly sins made during the year just passed. The Japanese stay up until midnight to listen to the 108 chimes, then they generally eat a bowl of hot toshikoshi-soba, brown noodles in broth.

Japanese New Year's card

Japanese New Year’s card.

Nengajō—a Western-like custom of giving holiday greeting cards to relatives and friends. Japanese greeting cards are sent to post offices before the end of the year where they are kept until New Year’s Day. On this day, the post office delivers the cards all at the same time.