Japan has always attached utmost importance to their tradition, culture and heritage. However, since the Gregorian calendar is abided by for all official purposes, people of Japan have not agreed to celebrate the New Year according to the modern day calendar system on the first day of the month of January.

But all the celebrations take place as per the traditions and heritage. The Japanese New Year is known by the name of Shōgatsu, and this is one of the major events in the life of Japanese people, and as such celebrations take place for about a fortnight.

  • Date and Day of Japanese New Year 2016 – Friday, January 1, 2016.

  • Clean the House – Preparations for Shōgatsu begin days in advance as homes and business places get a through spring cleaning.

  • Decorate the House – Japanese people decorate their homes for Shōgatsu as per some traditional beliefs. In all these, pine, rice straw ropes, and bamboo are given utmost importance. Pine, which is a form of evergreen foliage, and cannot be destroyed even by the harshness of the winter season, is considered by the Japanese people to be the embodiment of courage to overcome all kinds of odds that one may face in one’s life. Bamboo is considered to be embodiment of strength and goodness. Rice straw ropes are braided to form streamers or wreaths. These signify that the home is pure now and is ready to welcome all kinds of positive vibes.

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  • Visit Family – Japanese New Year celebrations are incomplete without family and friends. This is the time when people come together to unite with families. Many people visit their ancestral homes and places for this occasion.

  • Bell Ringing – On the New Year’s Eve the celebrations of Shōgatsu begin with the sounding of temple bells of 108 times. This is done by the monks and priests. Japanese people are mostly Buddhist in faith. According to their belief, human beings can commit 108 kinds of sins in their lifetime. Such sins keep them away from attaining the virtues of life and consequently salvation or nirvana, which is the ultimate aim for all people adhering to Buddhist faith. The tolling of the bells is the annual reminder to the people of all the various kinds of sins that they should abstain from. This is also the announcement that after this it is time to hit the party pad for the New Year’s Eve party.

  • Bonenkai – This is an intimate celebration that involves feasting to mark the occasion of Shōgatsu. For the purpose, low tables are laid and around it people of the family and the close circle of friends congregate to sit on tatimi mats and partake of traditional Japanese cuisine. As per Japanese custom, during this time of Bonenkai no one fills up one’s own platter with food, but does so for those around them. Often it is the custom for someone to make a speech in honor of the occasion, mostly the eldest person in the congregation.

  • Toshikoshi Soba – This is the tradition where people are served with extra long noodles on the occasion of New Year’s Eve and New Year. This is like wishing people with longevity.

  • Mochi – Mochi are rice cake that are handmade as part of traditional Shōgatsu celebrations. These are then turned into decorations to celebrate the Japanese New Year. For the purpose two of the mochis are taken and placed one on the other with the tangerine placed on them; and these are hung around homes and business places. Later on a specific date in January these mochis are eaten to round off the Shōgatsu celebrations.

  • Nengyō – This is the traditional custom of the Japanese people to reach out to their friends and families on the occasion of the New Year. Today’s busy schedule often prevents from people to reach out to near and dear ones as often as they would want or like to. However, this tradition makes it happen at least once a year. These are traditionally decorated postcards that are sent bearing the news of wellbeing and wishes of goodwill. The Japanese postal system makes special effort to have these reach their destination right on the New Year’s Day as long as they are posted within a time frame. However, if there has been a death in a family in the year gone by, then the family sends out postcards in advance to their relatives and friends requesting them not to send Nengyo as a mark of respect for the departed soul.

  • Otoshidama – This is the Japanese custom where elders of the family gift the children some money on the occasion of New Year. Traditionally, money was put in an envelope and gifted to the children. The amount of money each child would receive depended upon the age of the child. However, in present times, often people gift equal amounts to all children of the household so that no one feels privileged over the other. Businesses often gift small tokens of appreciation to their revered customers – it could be something as simple as mocha and tangerines.

  • Visit a Shrine and make offerings – Shōgatsu is a perfect occasion for Japanese people to visit shrines and make prayers for good times to come in the New Year. Offerings are made to the deities. Often token gifts are given to the monks. This is also a place to meet and greet neighbors.

  • Kōhaku Uta Gassen – It is a custom to play Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony for the occasion of Shōgatsu. Many music concerts too are organized for the occasion.

  • Osechi – This is the Japanese custom where it is believed that consuming some particular food items would make the upcoming New Year more auspicious. Some examples of such food items are mocha, spiced sake, egg, black beans, fish cake etc.

  • New Year Resolutions – Since New Year is a time to make fresh new beginnings, often people make New Year resolutions to mark the occasion, and also to give their life a renewed positive direction.

  • Throwing a party and playing party games – New Year parties are entwined with the celebration of New Year in Japan. In these parties, people often play various board and card games. Kite flying too is rampant during this time.

  • Hatsumōde – Japanese people believe that what you do first during the New Year would be significant for them all the year round. As such watching the rising sun is attached much importance, for it symbolizes filling up one’s life with light of hope.

  • Kagami Biraki – This is observed on the 11th day of January. On this day the rice cakes that were used for decoration purposes are broken, and are cooked and served during meals.

  • Visiting Dondoyaki – This is the final ritual and marks the end of the New Year’s celebration for that year. For this people visit their neighborhood shrine where a bonfire in arranged for. There people put to fire mementos from past and décors used during the celebrations. This symbolically represents making a new beginning. For this occasion Amazaki, which is a sweet sake, is often consumed.