Happy New Year! New Year’s: Another Cultural Ritual: Shogatsu

Happy new year to everyone! Thank you all for following and reading this blog! WordPress sent me an impressive email about all my blog “stats” and I’m quite amazed that so many more people are seeing this than I had imagined! It’s nice to know my writing is getting out there. I invite you all to comment on any posts in any way you like that is constructive! I thank my followers especially, and I am happy to be following more and more blogs out there, mostly concerning mental health. To all of you out there suffering with mental illness and related issues, I salute you for blogging and each day recommitting to fight to live despite all the pain and suffering you are experiencing. Taking care of yourself when you have a serious mental illness is a big job just by itself and if you have other jobs such as parent, partner and/or some kind of job job or “career”, you have even more to contend with. So give yourself a pat on the back for another year of doing your best to take care of yourself and for spreading information about what mental illness is really about and educating the public…

So in honor of new year’s, I thought I would post about at least one interesting or “different” new year’s ritual from our American ones (ball dropping, dressing up fancy, party hopping, kissing at midnight, etc…or just sleeping through it and celebrating with friends or family on the first day of the year); this time it is very personal for me as I lived in Japan a long time ago when I was in 4th and 5th grade and I remember New Year’s Day was one actually THE most important days of the year. ( I will have to post soon about Boys Day and Girls’ Day…) I don’t remember all the rituals but if I look it up it will probably bring up some memories and I can be more specific about how the Japanese celebrate New Year’s…

First, here is the link to the website I will be quoting from:


I remember the word “mochi” which was this white stuff that was eaten everywhere; I forgot it was in soup. As a ten year old, I did not like it at all because the texture was too strange for me; I think it’s a bit like thick tough tofu, but it is interesting that the Japanese have specific special dishes for the New Year. Also in this post is the emphasis of the symbolism of getting rid of the old year and having sort of a new clean space for a good new year, not so different from the Jewish rosh hashanah and Yom Kippur actually, although Jews separate two forms of thinking about new year’s (the welcoming of new year and new hope versus reflection upon one’s actions and repentance for the old year)…

“Here are some of the rituals and meanings for the Japanese. See if any of these speak to you and match something you do for the new year, such as making resolutions and sending holiday cards..

New Year (shogatsu or oshogatsu) is the most important holiday in Japan. Most businesses shut down from January 1 to January 3, and families typically gather to spend the days together.

Years are traditionally viewed as completely separate, with each new year providing a fresh start. Consequently, all duties are supposed to be completed by the end of the year, whilebonenkai parties (“year forgetting parties”) are held with the purpose of leaving the old year’s worries and troubles behind.

Homes and entrance gates are decorated with ornaments made of pine, bamboo and plum trees, and clothes and houses are cleaned.

On New Year’s eve, toshikoshi soba (buckwheat noodles), symbolizing longevity, are served. A more recent custom is watching the music show “kohaku uta gassen”, a highly popular television program featuring many of Japan’s most famous J-pop and enka singers in spectacular performances.

January 1 is a very auspicious day, best started by viewing the new year’s first sunrise (hatsu-hinode), and traditionally believed to be representative for the whole year that has just commenced. Therefore, the day is supposed be full of joy and free of stress and anger, while everything should be clean and no work should be done.

It is a tradition to visit a shrine or temple during shogatsu (hatsumode). The most popular temples and shrines, such as Tokyo’s Meiji Shrine, attract several million people during the three days. Most impressive are such visits at the actual turn of the year, when large temple bells are rung at midnight.

Various kinds of special dishes are served during shogatsu. They include osechi ryori, otoso (sweetened rice wine) and ozoni (a soup with mochi).”

The cleansing of the old year parties are a very appealing and interesting idea, and I like that there are specific foods to eat on New Year’s Day. We in the US emphasize New Year’s Eve revelry with all kinds of alcohol, and egg nog and some version of “punch” being the traditional drink, that there are no specific foods to eat on the first day of the year. White food seems to be connected to purity… It would be interesting if there were specific “New Year’s” cookies and soup, etc. but I guess for us, New Year also marks the End of a Long Holiday Period, which seems to start on Halloween and get really going by Thanksgiving, so by New Year’s, people are so sick of holiday food, drink and parties that I guess it wouldn’t be so appealing to have special New Year’s foods… Or maybe so?

Ok, so if you have read to the end of this post here is an extra treat I found online, some really “odd” or “weird” New Year’s traditions from around the world. Is anyone reading this familiar with any of them?

Love this one, wish it was done here! Denmark: “A strange and weird Danish New Year tradition is throwing breakable dishes at neighbor’s door. Strangely this makes them happy instead of annoying them. The family with the most huge tower of broken plates, glasses, cups and other crockery is considered to be the most lucky one because it means that they have lots of loyal friends.”

Here’s a funny one: “Residents of Brazil, Mexico, Bolivia and other South American states welcome the New Year by wearing colorful underpants. The usually wear red, yellow or other brightly colored under-wears past midnight to catch good fortune for the coming year. This also helps them find a loving mate. Red means an amorous love life ahead and yellow expresses the desire to gain money and wealth. The wishes of the locals are expressed via their underpants.”

And I’ll end with our American custom of the first kiss of the year as it actually has some meaning! “It’s a tradition in America to share a sweet midnight kiss with your girlfriend or boyfriend or with anyone in case you don’t have one. This will make the coming year incredibly beautiful for you. We believe that this practice brings true love. It washes away the bad memories and fate from the past and marks the beginning of a New Year full of love and life. A famous movie, “In Search of A Midnight Kiss” is themed on this New Year Ritual.”



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