New Year Tradition and Celebration in Japan

By Nuu Hightower

Around the Christmas holiday season, we were having a discussion of how people in Japan celebrate New Year’s. I figured we would eventually talk about that since it was the season. Plus, I actually was wondering about that at some point and thought that maybe it would be similar to Chinese New Year, like wearing more traditional colors and such; even thinking that they send red letters to family members. Part of me also thought they celebrate it according to the Lunar Calendar since Japan follows Chinese Zodiacs in their calendar. Let’s start off with the fact that the Japanese don’t necessarily celebrate it at Lunar Year, unlike some other East/South East Asian countries. They celebrate it at the usual January 1st like western countries. Their activities, customs and traditions, however, are different to how usual westerners would celebrate. And no, they don’t send red letters. They DO send something else however!

Those letters are called “Nengajo”, which are basically greeting cards to send as appreciation and good luck for the New Year. Although, don’t give those cards to people who have a family member who died recently to cheer them up because they “need time to mourn.” While I understand that, I personally wouldn’t mind a card to show that someone cared but I guess it’s just a different mindset…!

Another tradition is these small, bamboo-like trees outside people’s homes called a “kadomatsu (門松)”. While I thought they were for decoration (though people definitely decorate them though), they’re essentially there to purify homes and welcome gods. Also they apparently always have an orange along with the tree to offer as a gift to said gods. What if you end up changing up the fruit instead of the usual orange? Like an apple? I mean I’d take the apple.

Anyway, a lot of these traditions are from their belief called Shintoism, which wasn’t discussed in class at all…not yet anyway. There were other ways New Year’s is celebrated in Japan, like flying kites and visiting shrines and temples (again, following their beliefs), but they weren’t discussed in detail in class. If we had enough time to talk about that further, it would’ve been nice to have a discussion of cultural differences…! Something about discussing cultural differences really intrigues me, like the fact that people celebrate things DIFFERENT from my own culture!! That’s wild. Wonder how much fun they have on that holiday with lots to do…

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