The Japanese New Year

General Facts

The Japanese New Year isn't a mere day like in Western communities, but 9 days, lasting from December 28th to January 6th. This time of the year is not only considered New Years but Osaji (Spring Cleaning) as well. Most people go to shrines, and nearly all businesses are closed from the 1st to the 3rd. Many people stay up to view the first sunrise of the new year. New Years in Japan is considered a time for forgiveness, tranquility and new beginnings.

"January 1st marks a new beginning, so I have to come to the first shrine visit and recharge for the coming year."-Konata Izumi

Shrines and Temples

Shrines at New Years are the most crowded place at New Years. People go to shrines to burn their previous fortunes and buy new ones for the next year. These fortunes can range from very unlucky to very lucky, and people who recieve unlucky ones tie their fortunes to branches to wash away the unluckyness. Bells at shrines are another tradition of New Years. The bells are rung 108 times to wash away the sins of the previous year and some shrines let ordinary people ring the bells. Each ring represents the leaving behind the 108 worldly concerns. Most people leave offerings at the shrines. Common offerings are mochi, persimmons, pineseeds, sardines and chestnuts. On January 15th, decorations and talismans from the previous year are burned in a bonfire, and anyone can throw theirs in. Whilst burning the decorations many shrine maidens will serve sweet sake.

During New Years

Before New Years, the trains and rodes are filled with many people trying to travel to their home towns or relatives houses. It is believed that the first day of the new year is going to reflect the coming year. No one does much work and everyone tries to relieve their family members from stress and anger.

Lucky Food: Food for the New Year

Food that is prepared for the New Year is supposed to be long lasting foods that can be prepared days before New Years and last over the week, reducing the work of the house wives.

Other Traditions


Pochito bags, or korepochi in the Kanto region, are small bags that are filled with money given to children. The amount in each varies, but generally goes up as the child becomes older. The name pochi is deprived from the expression: "a tiny bit, just a little." It also refers to a bag you put small things in. They were originally used for people of all ages as small gifts of appreciation.

Things to do on New Years

The way people celebrater New Years has been changed dramatically over the years, children have stopped flying kites and playing card games, but many traditions have been kept alive and many more have been introduced. Decorating the house for New Years is one of the many that survived. It is common for families to make wreathes made from rice straws, bamboo and plums. Kadomatsu (lucky pine) is supposed to be placed near the door, a maneki neko (lucky cat) is placed inside the house and a kumade (lucky rake) is placed at a business. Most Japanese people also take part in Osaji (Japanese Spring Cleaning) at the time of New Years because it is a time for new beginnings. The Japanese believe it is a good time to purify the living environment for the start of the coming year. Nengyou are Japanese New Year cards and are one of the most common traditions to date. They are sent to friends, family and co workers, and are usually decorated with the zodiac animal of that year. Most households hold "get-togethers" or parties, welcoming most of their families despite how distant they are. One of the newer traditions is for families to watch "kohaku uta gossen", a music show playing J-Pop artists and popular songs of that year, similar to Carols by Candle Light.