New Year is a big deal in Japan. Like big big. So big that the waste collection gets three days off which –as far as I can tell- is the first time since I came here although there have been national holidays. But those don’t really matter; most shops are open on holidays except maybe the post office or banks. Unlike New Years. I’d say it is one of if not the biggest holiday in Japan, in many ways similar to Christmas in many ‘western’ countries.
First and probably biggest similarity is that you spend the days with your family and eat a lot. It’s also quite common to give money to children. Traditional food is amongst others soup with mochi and various dishes that are in some way preserved because their origin reaches back to the days when most households had no refrigerator. New Years decorations include arrangements of straw, bamboo, pine branches, little figurines, tangerines or two round mochi with a tangerine on top, called ‘kagami mochi’.
Blurred miso soup with mochi, konbu kelp and shiitake mushroom
Wikipedia says that at midnight Buddhist temples ring a bell 108 times to symbolize and get rid of the 108 sins or worldly desires. ‘Though one of the many temples near me either needs to adjust their clocks or had another reason to start 20 minutes early. By the way: One hour of individual bell rings is not as annoying as one hour of fireworks and nearly not as dangerous. (Also not as pretty.) ‘Though as I stated in an earlier post, each year some people choke on mochi.
The ‘firsts’ of each year are of some importance. Like the first visit of a temple, the first sunrise, the first letter, first bath and so on. Thus, many people go to a temple after midnight or sometime on January first and stay or get up to see the sunrise, preferably on a mountain or by the sea. Right now there’s a ginormous line of cars in front of my window and I’m not sure whether they’re heading to the sea, a mountain or a temple or something else. It’s 02.18am on 1/1/2014. Quick update: It’s now 14 hours later and there is still a LOT of traffic outside. Another quick update: It’s now two days later and the traffic jam commences.
There are a bunch of traditional Japanese games that are played including one where you have to piece together a face from paper cut outs blindfolded called ‘fukuwarai’. It’s fun and you can find templates on the web or create your own face. More entertainment is provided by choirs performing Beethoven’s Ninth all around the country or you can listen to it in the supermarket when they stopped playing Christmas music.
The Chinese New Year is still celebrated in some parts of the country but the Gregorian calendar seems to be more important in general. The Chinese zodiac however does have a big influence and since this year is the year of the horse you can get all kinds of horse related things. Also New Years postcards often picture the animal of the year. The Japanese post hires many students to help during the holiday season as they guarantee to deliver those postcards in time.
Happy New Year to y’all!
*header info* The picture displays six wagashi which may well be New Year related since I’ve seen them popping up the supermarket just after Christmas. The consistency of the clear stuff makes me want to puke (says someone who’s ok with slimy nattou) and they’re all disgustingly sweet (says someone who eats buttercream frosting for breakfast). Left to right: Azuki beans and mochi; azuki beans with anko; sweet potato or chestnut mash; anko and bits of something white maybe chestnut; azuki beans and chestnut and no idea what the last one was. I could be wrong the other ones as well. The clear stuff is agar, which is a traditional gelling agent since it’s made from algae or seaweed and so has always been widely available in Japan.
Now please excuse me while I’m being sick.