Shōgatsu: Japanese New Year

The Japanese New Year or Shōgatsu is probably the most important holiday in Japan. Many businesses close during this time so people can spend time with their families.

2156745461_446ffc88cf_zShōgatsu is celebrated from the 1st of January to the 3rd of January since it was officially celebrated according to the Gregorian calendar in 1873. The traditional Japanese New year is still on the same day as the contemporary Korean, Chinese, and Vietnamese New Years.

Most Japanese mark the arrival of the New Year with traditional Japanese New Year food such as osechi and other customs such as kadomatsu (bamboo-pine arrangement placed at the entrance of the home), otoshidama (give money to children) and hatsumōde (first trip to a shrine or temple in the New Year).

Otoshidama. | John Nakamura Remy

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. The tradition of Nengajō, a Western-like custom of giving holiday greeting cards to relatives and friends, is observed. 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.

Bōnenkai and Shinnenkai parties are all the rage during Shōgatsu!

11691908943_fdf8b3cb86_zBōnenkai (忘年会 literally ” ‘forget the year’ gathering”) is a Japanese drinking party held at the end of the year among close friends or groups of co-workers. Its main purpose is to forget the troubles and woes of the past year and to look forward to starting fresh for the new year by consuming quite a lot of alcohol and getting drunk. There is no specific day to celebrate bōnenkai, but it usually happens every December. Bōnenkai celebrations are often sponsored by a business office or a company for their employees.

Visiting Ikegami Honmonji Temple, Tokyo. | Jun Takeuchi

Shinnenkai (新年会, literally “new year gathering”) is the Japanese tradition of welcoming the New Year by yet again drinking alcohol. It is also usually celebrated amongst the company of co-workers and friends in January. Shinnenkai is also not a traditional part of the shogatsu celebrations. Shinnenkai is very similar to Bōnenkai in that it began during the same time period and is also sponsored by the employer. Shinnenkai celebrations are marked with wishing each other good fortune and luck for the New Year.

Happy New Year to one and all!