The New Year is Time for a Fresh Start
The Japanese word for New Year is Omisoka, a word that indicates a fresh start or a new beginning. That’s why many families often spend the end of the year preparing to for a big cleaning of their home. This event is known as osoji and is a Japanese version of spring cleaning. The idea of this cleaning is to create a new, fresh, and simpler frame of mind for the beginning of the new year.
Children and their parents will all pitch in to clean up the home, the garage, the living room, and bedrooms of their homes. They will also try to get their business affairs in order and deal with any resentments. While not a strict tradition for many Japanese people, this activity typically occurs when family members or friends are on difficult terms.
Japan is one of the largest Buddhist nations on the Earth. As a result, it often celebrates the New Year by ringing bells for up to two hours around midnight on December 31. This action is among the most traditional of all Japanese New Years superstitions and the most commonly celebrated. Known as Joya no Kane, it will typically occur in just about every town and city in the nation.
The number of bell tolls is traditionally 108. Buddhist beliefs state that 108 negative types of desires affect humanity. Known as Bonnou, they are a distraction from obtaining Nirvana. The toll of each bell is said to cleanse you of one of these negative feelings.
Food is Also Important
During the celebration for the new year, Japanese people traditionally eat what is known as Osechi ryori. These traditional foods are served in a large box and shared by family members and friends. There are many types of foods in this box, including symbolic items like lotus roots. It is traditional to use chopsticks known as iwai-bashi during this meal, as they symbolize sharing the meal with a preferred deity.
One of the foods in this box is soba noodles. These noodles are symbolic of a break from bad luck and a fresh new start in the new year. During this meal, substantial amounts of a sake known as Otoso is consumed. It will chase away evil spirits and help a person enjoy a long and healthy life without serious diseases.
There are Many Traditional Decorations
Before New Years begins, people in Japan will put up a variety of decorations to celebrate. Each has different symbolic concepts that make them relevant. For example, most people will put ume trees in front of their homes. These trees are traditionally made out of pine, bamboo, and plum wood. They are put up around Christmas time and kept up until January 7.
The purpose of these trees is to invite good luck and blessings to the people in the home, including their ancestors. Rice cake mirrors are another popular decoration during this season. They are round and placed in areas where gods are believed to live.
Gift Giving is Common
Giving gifts is a rich tradition during many Japanese holidays. During the new year, children typically receive small envelopes of money from several different relatives. These typically consist of about 5,000 yen or so. These children also receive little rice cakes in more traditional families or even toys that they can use to celebrate the holiday.
Another giving ceremony associated with the new year is Hatusmode. During the first few days of the new year, family members go to a shrine together and pray for a lucky new year. Once at the shrine, family members will place coins in the church collection box, ring the bell that hangs down near it, bow, and then clap.
One last tradition is the giving of Nengajo or postcards during the season. These postcards consist of positive blessings that help attract good luck to a loved one’s life. They can be either paper or digital.
Learning More About These Beliefs
As you can see, Japanese New Years superstitions are a fascinating aspect of their culture that is worth understanding and studying. If you are interested in learning more about Japan and its various superstitions and traditions, don’t hesitate to check out the rest of our site.