Ganjitsu is the Japanese New Years where “Gan” means the origin or beginning of something and “Jitsu” means the sun or the day. It is celebrated every year on the 1st of January and the date is fixed according to the Georgian Calendar.
Ganjitsu is an annual festival in Japan and it has its own sets of tradition and customs. This day has been celebrated since the year of 1873 and it coincides with the Korean, Chinese and Vietnamese New Years.
Just like the Korean, Chinese and Vietnamese New Year’s, the Japanese New Year’s date also depended on the Chinese lunar calendar just before the Meiji era. However five years after the Meiji Revolution or Reform in 1873, the Georgian calendar was adopted as the official calendar in Japan and the first day of January was marked as the Japanese New Year.
This day is celebrated with a lot of vigor and in a grand way across entire Japan. As it is also a day of spirituality, it is tradition to make first visit to a Buddhist temple or to Shinto shrine. It is also a ritual to burn previous year’s amulets and get new ones to ensure that the upcoming year will be free from all kinds of trouble and obstacles. Preparations for this day are made weeks before its arrival. People make plans beforehand and the whole of Japan is seen to be in a festive mood. The celebrations and festivities last for two to three days. Most of the offices, institutions remain closed on these days. People spend the day with friends and family by feasting and playing games. The climax of these festivities is attained when the Emperor appears to greet people from his palace in Tokyo. Moreover Ninth Symphony of Beethoven’s is performed throughout the whole of Japan on this day. This was introduced by the German prisoners imprisoned in Japan during the World War I.
During the New Year’s celebration, people have some selected dishes called osechi-ryori. Typically these traditional dishes are sour, sweet or dried so that they can be stored even without refrigerating them as most of the shops and stores remain closed on this day. The recipes of these dishes have been handed down from period when there were no refrigerators in house to store food. On this day, certain foods eaten at one place are not eaten in other places as it is believed to be unlucky and it is even banned. Traditional dishes like various types of osechi, ozoni, sashimi and sushi are eaten on this special occasion. Nowadays people also have non Japanese foods as well. After heavy feasting back to back for several days, a rice soup made with seven herbs is made to give rest to the overloaded stomach. This dish is made on the seventh day of January which is called Jinjitsu. Making and eating rice cakes, called Mochi, on this day is also an important custom. On the New Year’s Eve, it is a common tradition to eat Buckwheat noodles also known as Toshikoshi Soba.
Traditional New Year decoration includes settling of pine and bamboo together in front of all the shops and houses. These are called the Kadomatsu. The bamboo symbolizes sincerity and the pine signifies longevity. Plum branches which signify new beginning or new life are also added to this.
Ringing of bells
As soon as the clock strikes 12 on the night of 31st December, all the Buddhist temples throughout Japan ring bells for 108 times. It is a custom that is carried out every year and according to Buddhism, the ringing of the bells represents the 108 sins the human beings make in their life. The watched night bell is a major attraction in Tokyo. People in Japan also believe that hearing these bells can help them to get rid of the sins that they have committed in the previous year. These ringing bells also help them to get rid of their worldly desires. It is a ritual to ring the bells 107 times on the night on 31st December and the final one or the 108th one is rung after the clock strikes 12.
The tradition of Otoshidama
Otoshidama is the custom of giving money to the children on the New Year’s Day in Japan. The money is given in small envelopes which are decorated and are also called Pochibukuro. This tradition has come down from the Edo era when the wealthy families used to hand over mandarin oranges and little bags of mochi to people in order to spread joy and happiness. All the children in a house receive equal amounts of money so that none of them feels bad and generally the amount varies with the age.
Just like people all over the world send New Year and Christmas cards, it is a tradition in Japan to send postcards to relatives, friends and family members who live in other places. It is a way of making them understand that they are missed and it is also a token of conveying love and affection. The post offices remain utterly busy before the arrival of the New Year and they even hire students as part time workers to deliver them. These postcards generally have the twelve Chinese zodiacs printed on them and some even have the greetings and other messages written on them.