In the calm, early morning darkness, many Japanese wait to see the sunrise. It is January 1st, and it is the first sunrise of the year. Praying to the first sunrise of the year for health and happiness is just one of the interesting traditions of the Japanese New Year, the Shōgatsu. This important holiday is a highlighted event and an ideal time for visitors to experience the essence of Japanese traditional culture. Here are some recommendations for tourists to enjoy New Year’s in Japan.
What to eat: Bring on the good luck, bring on the good food.
The importance of food is the cornerstone to celebrating any holiday. On December 31st, hot buckwheat noodles called toshikoshi soba, are served to symbolize the cutting off of the year’s misfortunes and wishes for good luck. On January 1st (and some places until January 7th), people eat selected traditional foods, each with a symbolic value of fortune and success for the year to come. The most well known is the osechi-ryori (osechi). It is made up of traditional foods and flavors, served in jūbako, which resemble Japanese bento boxes.
Other foods enjoyed during this season are:
- ozoni (soup with mochi rice cakes)
- kagami mochi (a decorated, two-stacked mochi rice cake with a tangerine on the top)
- nanakusa gayu (served on January 7th, a seven-herb porridge to let the stomach rest)
What to do: Celebrating the first week of January
There are plenty of traditional and memorable activities to do during the first week of the New Year. The Japanese New Year is usually celebrated from January 1st–January 4th, while some locations may include celebrations that last the whole week.
Ringing in the new year in Japan is called Joya-no-kane. This Buddhist tradition believes that ringing the bell 108 times is supposed to cleanse souls for the year ahead. On December 31st, make sure you head to the temple of your choice early. Popular locations such as Ikegami Honmonji Temple in Ota has only 600 tickets are available on a first come, first served basis.
As mentioned before, seeing the hatsuhinode, or the first sunrise is a great way to start the new year! While the first sunrise can be watched from anywhere, many travel together to special locations for the viewing.
Recommended places to view the first sunrise:
Another way to usher in the new year is to go to hatsumode, the first shrine or temple visit of the year. During the visit, people pray at the main shrine and toss a 5- or 50 yen coin into the wooden box. It’s common during the hatsumode to buy a omikuji, a written fortune. If it predicts bad luck, you can tie it onto a tree on the shrine grounds, in the hope that the prediction will not come true. Often a good-luck charm comes with the omikuji.
Recommended places for the first temple/shrine visit of the year:
Celebrating the New Year in Japan is an inspiring and beautiful way to experience Japanese culture. While you are here, don’t forget to wish others a Happy New Year’s in Japanese! “Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu”. Though we’ve only introduced several spots here, why not visit Ota City and discover your own favourite new place?