Japan New Year 2013

I was in Japan over the New Year holidays to celebrate the New Year with my new family and a short honeymoon trip to Okinawa. Since this was my first Japanese New Year for me so a lot of things were interesting and a cultural lesson for me. These were what I learnt for my first Japan New Year.

Japan New Year Decoration

japan new year

The hanging of Shimekazari(占め飾り)on top of the house entrance to prevent bad spirits from entering and to invite the Toshigami (歳神), or Shinto deity, to descend and visit. This traditional New Year decoration is made of shimenawa, a sacred Shinto straw rope, and other materials such as bitter oranges, ferns, and white ritual paper strips called shide.


Japan New Year Traditional Food

japan new year

Kagami mochi (鏡餅), literally mirror rice cake, is a traditional Japanese New Year decoration. It usually consists of two round mochi (rice cakes), the smaller placed atop the larger, and a daidai (a Japanese bitter orange) with an attached leaf on top. The two mochi discs are variously said to symbolize the going and coming years, the human heart, “yin” and “yang”, or the moon and the sun. The “daidai”, whose name means “generations”, is said to symbolize the continuation of a family from generation to generation.


japan new year

Contemporary kagami mochi are often pre-moulded into the shape of stacked discs and sold in plastic packages in the supermarket. A mikan or a plastic imitation daidai is often substituted for the original daidai. The kagami mochi is kept until the beginning of January when, on 11th, it is broken, with the hand or with a hammer, into edible-size pieces and it is cooked. A knife is never used, because that would mean cutting the family ties.


Otousan replaced the plastic orange with a real orange grown in our backyard.

japan new year
Fish cake (Kamaboko 蒲鉾) used in traditional new year food and some of the sweets shaped in the zodiac sign for this year (snake year)

Japan New Year Postcards

japan new year

The Japanese have a custom of sending New Year’s Day postcards (年賀状) to their friends and relatives, similar to the Western custom of sending Christmas cards. Their original purpose was to give your faraway friends and relatives tidings of yourself and your immediate family. In other words, this custom existed for people to tell others whom they did not often meet that they were alive and well.


Since the major happening for us for 2012 would be our wedding and hence the design we printed this year was a wedding card design and this was sent out to our various families and friends both in Japan and overseas.

new year card
The end of December and the beginning of January are the busiest times for the Japanese post offices. There are designated boxes for senders to mail their new year post cards and some post offices were opened through the holidays too. Most of the postcards sold were printed with pre-paid stamps.

Japan New Year Eve Food

new year dinner
The food prepared by Otousan.

new year dinner
Kuri kinton made with candied chestnut and sweet potato which would become a beautiful golden color, the symbol of wealth.

new year dinner
Toshikoshi Soba (Year-End Soba 年越し蕎麦) a tradition based on people’s association of eating the long noodles with “crossing over from one year to the next,” which is the meaning of toshi-koshi. While the noodles are often eaten plain, or with chopped scallions, in some localities people top them with tempura. – Wiki

hakata strawberry
The famous Hakata giant strawberries for dessert!

Japan New Year Gift

japan new year

On New Year’s Day, Japanese people have a custom of giving money to children. This is known as otoshidama (お年玉). It is handed out in small decorated envelopes called ‘pochibukuro,’ similar to Shūgi-bukuro or Chinese red envelopes and to the Scottish handsel. In the Edo period large stores and wealthy families gave out a small bag of mochi and a Mandarin orange to spread happiness all around. The amount of money given depends on the age of the child but is usually the same if there is more than one child so that no one feels slighted. It is not uncommon for amounts greater than ¥10,000 (US$120) to be given.


Japan New Year First Shrine Visit


Hatsumōde (初詣) is the first shrine visit of the New Year in Japan. Many visit on the first, second, or third day of the year as most are off work on those days. Generally, wishes for the new year are made, new omamori (charms or amulets) are bought, and the old ones are returned to the shrine so they can be burned. There are often long lines at major shrines throughout Japan.


Really popular shrines will receive 2-3 million visitors during the New Year celebrations and you can check out this link for crowd. For us, we headed to a Shrine about 15 minutes away from Sushi San’s hometown.

Waiting in line after washing up.

Making my first coin toss for 2013.

What are these people reading?

O-mikuji (おみくじ) are random fortunes written on strips of paper at Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples in Japan. Literally “sacred lot”, these are usually received by making a small offering (about 100JPY) and randomly choosing one from a box, hoping for the resulting fortune to be good.

Even kids are also interested by their fortune for the year.

After reading, you can tie your omikuji and leave it in the shrine to help you ward off any evil especially if you receive a bad luck omikuji.

Business is good at the amulet and the arrow charm area.

You can return your previous year’s amulet and charms to the shrine to be burned away.

Right after the shrine visit, there was many stores selling all sorts of food and hot pipping food is great for us to ward off the cold since it was going to be a long walk to the train station.

Japan New Year Bargain Sale

new year bargain sale
Traditionally New Year Bargain sales start on Jan 2 but in recent days, many big departmental stores would start their sales on Jan 1 and many took the chance to buy Fukubukuro (福袋) which means lucky bag. Most of the bags are sealed and one do not know the contents but items worth inside are usually 4-5 times the prices that was paid. I bought a total of 5 lucky bags but the most disappointing one was the Samantha Thavasa lucky bag which consisted of bags that I won’t even consider buying and I don’t even want to post their terrible designs on. (It was even the most expensive bag that I bought at 21000JPY)

Refer to this link on the huge crowd at the popular Shibuya 109

canmake fukubukuro
Canmake lucky bag – nail color, lip stick, 2 cheek blush, eye shadow and UV base.

snidel fukubukuro
JugeETTA lucky bag – 2 knits, 2 blouses, 1 skirt, 1 shorts and 1 scarf. The lucky bag was a well made travle tote.

snidel fukubukuro
Snidel lucky bag – 1 coat, 2 knit, 1 shorts and 1 shawl

with the new snidel
Immediately wore my new Snidel coat out for dinner after shopping. Made with really soft synthetic fur but size was a little small even though it was free size.

Japan New Year Flower arrangment

new year flowers
New Year floral arrangement, most business would have floral arrangement to celebrate the new year.

That is all for the sights and learning for my first Japanese New Year, I am sure we would have more to learn for 2014 🙂


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Japan New Year 2014 | Xuan's Howdy Days

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