Japanese New Year

Japanese New Year

The Japanese New Year is called shogatsu or oshogatsu (お正月) and it is the most important holiday in Japan.  Since 1873, the official Japanese New Year has been celebrated on January 1st, instead of the New Year based on Lunar Calendar (Chinese New Year).

Today I want to talk about how the Japanese people end the year and welcome the New Year.

December – Shiwasu

December is also called Shiwasu (師走) in Japanese, and the kanji (word) literally means “masters/teachers run”.  It basically implies that December is so busy that even self-composed masters/teachers are on the run.

At the end of the year, people send out the gifts called Oseibo (お歳暮) to their managers, customers, and teachers to express appreciation for the whole year.  Popular gift items are also given including fresh food (seafood, meat, and fruits), condiments, beer, tea/coffee, canned food, desserts, and gift certificates.

Before the companies shut down from the end of year to the first week of New Years, there are a lot of year-end parties called Bonenkai (忘年会), literally meaning “forget-the-year party”, with colleagues and bosses.

During the last few days of December, people meticulously clean their homes, business offices, and stores and scrub top-to-bottom.  This annual tradition is called Osoji (大掃除), “the big cleaning”.  We think it’s important to eliminate the dust, dirt, and clutter from the passing year and to welcome the New Year with a clean and fresh emotional state.

After the house is cleaned, New Year’s decorations like Kado Matsu, (門松) are set up on both sides of front entrance.  They are made of pine and 3 bamboo stalks that are cut diagonally in different lengths.  Pine boughs are symbolic of longevity and bamboo stalks are symbolic of prosperity.