New Year in Japan is wrapped in many traditions, customs, myths and rituals that hold special symbolic meanings. The New Year itself represents a time to wrap up the activities of the passing year and a time to start afresh. And New Year in Japan is not an exception.
New Year is regarded in Japan as an auspicious occasion brimming with solemn prayers and cheerful greetings of “Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu!”
Like other countries, New Year in Japan is filled with traditional customs which are religiously followed and enjoyed. The age-old Japanese custom of not carrying-over any debts or duties from the old year to the new one has symbolic significance.
New Year is that time when people leave all the old problems and worries behind and start their life afresh. And that’s the reason why people in Japan busily wind up their affairs of the old year and pay all their debts by New Year's Eve.
The other traditional activities adding to the spice of the New Year’s celebrations are parties known as bonen kai (end of the Year celebration) and shinnen kai (New Year’s celebration)- that are both figurative of ‘ let bygones be bygones’ and starting with a new outlook for the coming year.
Though New Year in Japan is a three day holiday, but the preparations associated with the holiday begins from a month ago. One of the important activities is cleaning the house. The process of cleaning the house is known as Susuharai, or soot-sweeping. People across the nation rub the stains both physical and spiritual, of the past year in order to purify the home and make it absolutely new for the coming year
Then, on New Year's Eve, a pine decoration popularly known as Kadomatsu is set up on both sides of the front gates of the house. The gate pine is made of pine sprigs, bamboo and plum blossoms that are tied together with cord. The Kadomatsu is believed to welcome good luck into the house.
Another, equally-important display is the Shimenawa, a sacred rope prepared of straw on which zig-zag slips of paper have been hung. The display is hung above the front entrance in order to put off the deadly and evil spirits from entering the house
At the midnight, some famous Japanese temples ring 108 sounds with a temple bell. This custom of ringing bells at the actual turn of the year is derived from a traditional legend.
According to the legend there are 108 desires related to sense, feeling, and time in every person. In order to erase these desires, we ring 108 sounds because people used to believe that these sounds were effective for them
On New Year's Eve, people serve toshikoshi soba (buckwheat noodles) that symbolizes longevity. The first day of the New Year is started by viewing the first sunrise known as hatsu-hinode. In Japan, it is a tradition to visit a shrine or temple to usher in the New Year. This first temple or shrine visit of the year is known as Hatsumode and is one of the most important traditions.
Apart from traditional foods, New Year in Japan is accompanied by traditionally played games like Hanetsuki (Japanese badminton), takoage (kite flying), and karuta (a card game) to name just a few. A very popular custom in Japan is the sending of New Year's greeting cards , which are specially marked to be delivered on January 1. These are some of the traditions that add a zest to the celebrations of New Year in Japan.