At the beginning, I would like to wish you all the best in the New Year. That all your dreams come true ! Because the feeling of fulfilling a dream is amazing. Year 2013 was exiting for both me and Jakub. We visited many countries, but Japan will remain the most important for me. I will never forget what I felt sitting in a restaurant, in Tokyo when I realized that I was in Japan – the country of my dreams. I ‘m still here ! On this occasion I would like to describe to you how New Year is celebrated in Japan.
Japanese as for example Polish celebrate the New Year on December 31. In East Asia, it is also popular to celebrate ” Chinese ” ( Lunar ) New Year – according to Wikipedia, after the great reforms in Japan during the so-called Meiji Restoration in the nineteenth century , it was decided to circumvent the New Year as the “Western world”. In Japanese, this day is called omisoka 大晦日 . It is a special day preceded by a lot of preparation, so December is considered to be a busy month and it should not surprise anyone that there is a proverb saying december is so busy month that even the “master runs”. This has its source in kanji characters . December in Japanese is juunigatsu 十二月, however, it was formerly called shiwasu 師走. Shiwasu consists of the characters “master” and “run”.
Japanese long before the December 31 buy postcards that they write by hand and send to family and friends. Masako had written this year more than 100. These are called nengajo 年賀状. Postcards can be purchased at any store, and at post offices in a variety of styles. I really liked the postcards with Hayao Miyazaki’s anime character – Totoro. However, the most popular cards were those with a horse because 2014 is the year of the horse (that’s an example that the Far East cultures share common zodiacal symbolism).
A few days before the New Year’s Eve great cleaning – osoji – takes place. The Japanese believe, that this is a good time to purify your surroundings. A fresh start for the next 12 months. Osoji has religious significance associated with the process of purification. On the door we hung
a wreath of rice straw and we decorated a pine tree – kadomatsu – to welcome the gods. In addition, Masako bought a new string to her Shinto shrine.
When everything had been properly cleaned up – we could go to the kitchen. At December 30, together with Masako , grandmother and Natchi we prepared mochi 餅 rice cakes. Firstly, we cooked rice in large steaming pots. After cooking we put it into a special container where rice was mixed with rice flour (mochiko). We kneaded a cake and put it into a dark and cold place to cool it down. Then we carried it to neighbors and friends. Mochi is served mostly with sweet red beans and soy flour ( yum! ) .
The next day – that is already December 31 Hiroshi, Masako’s husband went to a friend’s house to prepare buckwheat soba 蕎麦 noodles. This day, in the morning in all the houses in Japan soba is eaten. This has a symbolic meaning – it expresses longevity. Soba can be consumed in several ways. The most traditional one – it is to pour special sauce into a separate bowl, together with onion and chives and using your chopsticks to put your noddles into this bowl. If you have sauce still left you can pour water in which the pasta was cooked and drink that.
After eating, we turned the TV on. Kohaku Uta Gassen 紅白歌合戦 is a popular music program where two teams-white and red compete with each other in singing. It became a tradition to watch Kohaku Uta Gassen on New Year’s Eve.
From mid-December Bonenkai 忘年会 are organised, which literally means “forget the year party”. The purpose of these events, as the name suggests is to get rid of the memory of the bad moments by drinking large amounts of alcohol. Mostly Bonenkai are organize by friends from work. I had the pleasure to take part in Bonenkai , which in the case of Hiroshi and his colleague took place on December 31 in Izakaya which I had previously visited many times (I know the owner, we call her Mama) . There was a lot of food (including, of course, soba), a lot of alcohol and karaoke .
Shortly after Bonenkai we went to the Buddhist temple. We ate there mochi cake with sweet beans and went to the part where the monk prayed. We joined the prayer and waited for the midnight’s hitting gongs, it was 108 of them. At the end of the pray monk was giving sake to everyone and even a key chain with a horse! Then we went to the Shinto shrine. There Masako’s family was hitting gong, clapping, praying and throwing coins for luck.
After returning home, we drank sake and went to sleep. I got up before 8 am to talk to Kuba on Skype. As a result, I experienced New Year’s Eve twice ^ ^. Afternoon, January 1, New Year , which in Japanese is called oshogatsu お正月 family members came, and we served osechi-ryori 御節料理 – treats in a box, which bring good luck.
I could also see another interesting tradition. Otoshidama お年玉 is a habit of giving money to children. Money awarded in tiny, charming envelopes. I also got it, though I should not because I have over 20 years! The rest of the day we spent eating, drinking , talking and playing bingo!