I hope you all had a superb Christmas, considering it may have been one of the most difficult ones yet. I know this pandemic is still raging about the place, but here’s hoping 2021 will be different for us all. How will you be bringing in the New Year? Japanese New Year is one of the most treasured holidays in the whole of Japan as it’s a special time that brings families together from all over. It actually reminds me of Christmas in Britain in that sense; family time as golden time, eating delicious foods, playing games and taking some well deserved time off. But is it a big old turkey on the table or cheesy films about Santa and Rudolf on the tele? Nope! Then what makes Japanese New Year so wonderfully special?
Japanese KFC Christmas
You probably won’t believe it but a Japanese tradition on Christmas is eating KFC… it doesn’t sound very Christmasy does it? But it’s a tradition that many have held dear since the 1980s. Christmas isn’t viewed as a religious holiday but rather as a date night for couples to visit German-style Christmas markets, friends to have KFC parties and everyone still goes to work or school!! Rather, Oshogatsu (Happy New Year in Japanese) is the time when everyone comes together and relaxes.
December 31st in Japan
Everyone looks forward to New Year’s in the UK right? You pick out your best outfit and head to that countdown party for lots of dancing and drinks. You shout the countdown whilst watching Big Ben, singing Auld Lang Syne and kissing your nearest and dearest… It’s completely different in Japan! Rather than “party party”, mum usually makes a traditional dish of Toshi Koshi soba noodles that are said to bring good luck for the upcoming year. Some people venture out to the shrine for midnight to get the first prayer of the year in.
Traditional New Year
New Year’s Day is a big Japanese culture tradition. Some people wake up before the crack of dawn to get up high and watch the first sunrise of the year. Upon returning home, the whole family gathers to enjoy a unique breakfast feast. First and foremost, you greet each other with a respectful bow and say “Akemashite Omedeto Gozaimasu” (HAPPY NEW YEAR) Then, “Kotoshi Mo Yoroshiku Onegai Shimasu'' (Thanks for last year, and in advance for this year too!). Once everyone is comfortably seated, blessed Japanese sake is poured from one person to the next from a special pot into a mini saucer-style cup that the receiver must hold. It’s believed to prevent any illnesses for the rest of the year. What a great excuse to enjoy a little tipple! It’s enjoyed alongside dried squid and dried seaweed kelp.
If you’re a kiddie, you’re in luck! Grandparents love to give Otoshidama; an envelope of money. Rather than gifting Christmas presents, people like to give New Year’s presents of premium meat selections, fancy cooking oils and other delicious treats. Some families have a go at mochi tsuki (rice pounding to make rice cakes) with a massive mallet and mortar. Some like to watch the two day train station relay race, Hakone Ekiden on 2nd & 3rd.
Japanese New Year Food
New Year food and osechi is a beautiful, colourful selection of foods which all hold a different meaning. For example; prawns for a long life, black soy beans for health so you can work diligently, rolled omelette for knowledge and learning, sweet mashed chestnuts for wealth, herring roe for fertility, lotus root for a happy future, red snapper fish as a symbol of celebration, etc. The idea of osechi is to give mum a break from cooking for a few days as New Year’s is all about rest and time together. Rather than cooking away in the kitchen, the food is all pre-made and there’s so much of it that it should last a day or two. Ozoni mochi (rice cake) soup is also served and is said to have been a dish enjoyed by samurai many, many years ago! Dried persimmon is also enjoyed and you must count how many pips you have as an odd number of pips is lucky.
As you can see, the Japanese celebrate New Year’s a little differently compared to the West; a time for family to enjoy each other’s company whilst feasting on an array of colourful and symbolic foods, taking some time to relax and appreciate everything. So no matter how you’re celebrating New Year’s this year, please stay safe and from us here at Zak Zakka we wish you a Happy New Year and hope 2021 will bring you, your loved ones and the world a safer place. See you next year! Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu!