Hagoita New Year decor

Japanese New Year Traditions

The New Year or Shōgatsu is probably Japan’s most important holiday. Many Japanese businesses close during so people can spend time with their families. The Japanese have a way of celebrating the end of a year and the beginning of a new one.

Understanding Nenmatsu-nenshi, Toshikoshi and Shinnen   

There are terms used in Japan that are related to the new year. It is always best to have a better understanding of what they actually mean.

Nenmatsu-nenshi (年末年始) – literally means “year-end, year beginning”.  It is usually from about 28th of December to the 3rd Januanry. It essentially describes being busy with preparions for the coming new year but at the same time looking forward to spending some quality time with family and friends.

Toshikoshi (年越し) – means “passing the year,” and denotes the actual events and customs that occurs at the end of the year.

Japanese New Year card

Japanese New Year card.

Some Nenmatsu-nenshi and Toshikoshi traditions

Nengajo (年賀状) –  is 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.

Hagoita Decorations (羽子板) –  hagoita are Japanese wooden paddles used in the traditional game hanetsuki (羽根突き, 羽子突き). The game, something like badminton, is usually played during the New Year.  In modern days, they are used a traditional New Year’s decorations believed to drive away evil spirits.

Oosoji (大掃除) – is similar to “spring cleaning”. In the last weekend of the year, the entire family get together to clean the house to start the New Year fresh.


First temple visit of the year.

Some Shinnen traditions

Shinnen (新年) – is “new year” and refers to all the festivities that take place before going back to work usually on the 4th of January.

Hatsumode (初詣) – The first trip to a shrine or temple in the new year is known as Hatsumōde These sacred places are crowded during New Year’s Eve and the next few days. Visitors dress up in kimonos if weather permits. Popular shrines around Japan have a festive atmosphere with food stands and crowds gathering for their first visit to a shrine or temple for the year.

Osechi ryori (おせち料理) – The term osechi was derived from o-sechi, meaning a season or significant period. In Japan, New Year’s Day was considered one of the five seasonal festivals in the Imperial Court in Kyoto. In olden times, during the first three days of the New Year, it was unthinkable to use a hearth and cook meals. Osechi was prepared days ahead of the New Year as women were not allowed to cook.