If in the West Christmas is more a “family day” while New Year’s eve is usually more enjoyed with friends, it is fair to say that the situation is reversed in Japan. Indeed, many Japanese go back to their hometown to visit their family during this period.
After Christmas, kadomatsu, decorative arrangements of typically bamboo shoots and pine sprigs tied together, are placed in pairs in front of homes and offices, and will remain there for around 2 weeks, to welcome the toshigami (spirit of the new year). The bamboo is said to symbolize growth and strength, while the pine represents longevity.
Though it is popular to watch music shows on TV on new year’s eve, with genres varying from enka to J-Pop, people traditionally visit the shrine or temple in their neighbourhood to listen to the Joya No Kane at midnight (giant bell ringing), pray, drink a cup of sake or buy a hamaya (sacred arrow bringing good fortune).
- Throw a coin in the designated box
- Ring the bell
- Bow 2 times
- Clap your hands two times
- Pray, and then bow one last time when you are done before leaving (some people will also clap one time)
Though in the past few years i visited the shrine at midnight on new year’s eve, i decided this year to go to the Hie Jinja on Sotobori Dori in the morning of the 1st of January, to avoid queuing in the coldness of the night (so i basically queued in the coldness of the day, since you simply can’t avoid queuing on such crowded days).
Back home, most Japanese will eat osechi ryori, that could be best described as a sort of luxurious bento. Traditionally, the osechi ryori will consist in a selection (or all) of the following dishes:
- Kuro-mame (black soybeans)
- Kazunoko (herring roes)
- Datemaki (sweet rolled omelette)
- Zoni (miso soup of mochi rice cake)
- Ebi (prawn)
- and many more depending on the regions/family traditions/personal tastes…