Holidays Around the World: Japan
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In Japan, the most celebrated holiday, Oshogatsu, or New Year, is observed during the first three days of January. It’s a time of prayer, special meals, and family.
On December 31st, as midnight arrives, temple bells are rung 108 times, to symbolize driving out the 108 burdens, or sins, that weigh down mankind, according to Buddhist beliefs.
Families make their way to shrines for hatsu-mode, the ritual of saying the first prayers of the New Year, praying for a happy and healthy year. They wish good things for their relatives, as well as friends and acquaintances.
Each year, many enjoy sending and receiving postcards for the holiday, letting family and friends know they are well and to wish them a good New Year. These cards, when specially marked, are guaranteed to be delivered across the whole country on January 1.
New Year’s Food
Dishes to be eaten during the first three days of January are called, osechi-ryori.
The food is prepared ahead and stored in a nest of boxes, so no one will have to spend their time cooking during the holiday. The containers are full of traditional foods such as boiled seaweed and fish cakes. Every dish that is eaten is believed to bring about specific benefits, like prosperity and long life.
One traditional New Year’s food our family was introduced to this year is mochi, a rice cake made from sticky rice that’s been pounded into a paste and molded into shapes. It can be made to be sweet or savory and is often shaped into balls, stuffed with a bean paste filling.
We love it!
The Daruma Doll
Another symbol of the New Year is the Daruma doll. The Daruma doll is a Japanese wishing, or goal setting doll, made of paper mâché. It is said that the rounded doll, “falls down 7 times and gets up 8 times.” This is a wonderful representation of working toward something and never giving up.
Once a year, when a new doll is purchased, a specific, achievable goal is set or a wish is made, and the left pupil is colored. You draw in the other eye when you reach your target or your wish comes true.
This is a tradition that my family has adopted. At the beginning of January, we sit down and talk about what we hope to accomplish in the coming year. Then, we color in the first eye as we set our goal. We place the doll somewhere visible to keep us motivated.
Learn about other Holidays Around the World.
Celebrate Japanese New Year at Home
Interested in adding some Japanese traditions to your New Year celebrations? Here are two ideas that your older kids might enjoy.
Make your own Mochi
We’re all familiar with holiday baking, but this year, consider creating something to help ring in the New Year. This recipe will show you how to make your own delicious mochi. It does not include a filling but still produces a wonderful tasting dish.
Don’t want to make your own mochi, but want to know what it tastes like? Buy some instead.
Celebrate the Year of the Sheep
2015 is the Year of the Sheep, so this animal will be a popular image on New Year’s postcards. Take part in the Japanese tradition of origami by folding your own paper sheep.
Happy New Year!