Happy New Year! Or, if you were in Japan, you would say “Akemashite omedetōgozaimasu!” That can be difficult to say- believe me I know- but it conjures up wonderful visions of the magic during this time of year.
If you’re living in Japan right now, you understand what I’m talking about. I lived in Osaka for two years and go back every summer to visit my wife’s family. Summer is fine but I really miss the New Year celebrations. We actually visited for Oshogatsu (New Years) two years ago and it was wonderful to be there for it all again.
New Years in Japan is something I’m sure you would enjoy! When you visit, make sure to go to a shrine on New Year’s Eve.
They are normally packed with people looking to ring in the New Year with a blessing. Even with the crowds, entering a shrine in Japan calms you. People do their best to visit on New Years day or within the first three days of the year.
What surprised me the most on my first visit were how many things they have for you to do…
You can say a prayer for health, happiness and prosperity and even get a fortune for the year. You might need someone that can read Japanese to translate your fortune because the little paper you receive is packed full of information. If it’s a good fortune, you keep the paper. If it’s bad, you can tie it to a tree in the shrine for better luck.
The smell of the cold fresh air mixed with food cooked by street vendors like okonomiyaki (Japanese pizza), takoyaki (fried ball of dough with a piece of octopus inside) and dango (round rice dumplings) helps you feel content as you walk through the shrine. You should take a chance and eat something you’ve never tried before. One of my favorite foods is yakisoba. They’re like stir-fried ramen noodles with veggies and pork. Oishii (delicious)!
Of course, the most important food to eat on New Year’s Eve is toshikoshi soba noodles. The long thin noodles represent a long and healthy life. You can go to a restaurant or buy some and make them yourself.
One of the coolest parts of spending time at the shrine is when the clock strikes twelve. The shrine will ring a large bell 108 times to get rid of the 108 human sins and worldly desires in the Buddhist belief system. The bells remind me to stop and think about the year that has passed. The bell ringing truly helps me feel like any negativity inside of my body is being cleared away.
The first three days of the year are sacred for Japanese people. They take time off of work and relax at home with family. Children are given gifts of money called Otoshidama. The amount they receive can be anywhere from $50-$150! You can see that it’s a nice chunk of change that can help kids learn about how much to spend and save for their future. My daughter loved receiving money but I think she was more excited about the envelopes with manga characters on them that they came in.
If you get a chance to spend time with a Japanese family during Oshogatsu you can enjoy eating traditional cuisine called Osechi Ryori. The selection of fish and vegetables are beautifully arranged inside of three tier boxes and look like works of art. You can buy osechi ready made and there’s plenty of food so bring your appetite!
The New Year in Japan is full of food, family and lots of drinking!
Travel is significantly cheaper compared to other times of the year if you’re flying in from another country. You can get great deals so look into them and decide where you would like to visit. Tokyo is fun but of course I’m partial to the Osaka or Kansai region because I have family there. There’s so much to see in Kansai like the gorgeous historical area of Nara, the city of Kobe and one of my favorite places to visit shrines, Kyoto.
Start planning your trip now! That way, you can have all year to look forward to the enchanting experience of celebrating the New Year at a shrine in the extraordinary country of Japan!