Celebrate: O-shogatsu (New Year’s Day) 2014

Happy New Year! For the first time in nearly half a decade, I actually watched the ball drop in Times Square from the same time zone. 🙂

Last year, I celebrated the New Year in Japan with some wonderful friends in Kumamoto. I am actually missing them today, wishing a part of me were sitting in their house, sharing osechi ryori (special New Year’s fare) with tasty morsels like rice with adzuki beans and special sugared black beans. But you can’t have it all and I wouldn’t trade being able to share the Christmas holidays with my family back in the US.

But if you’re currently on my usual side of the world, here are a few things you might notice yourself this holiday season:

Shimekazari – You can technically see shimenawa (sacred ropes) any time of the year. They’re the thick straw cords that hang around trees or from shrine gates, marking the area where a god (or kami) supposedly inhabits. A New Year’s shimekazari, however, is more elaborate. I’ve been seeing them on sale everywhere for the past few weeks (grocery stores, hardware stores, the mall …) – my neighbors have them hanging above their front doors and I’ve also seen one or two on the front of cars.

A shimekazari hanging over my neighbor's front door
A shimenawa hanging over my neighbor’s front door

Kadomatsu – These pine and bamboo arrangements are also crowding the stores these days. They’re placed outside the front door of a home or business, always in pairs, and are said to ward off evil and give the home’s dwellers the power to resist old age (who doesn’t want that?). The pine represents strength and longevity; the bamboo signifies resilience and rapid growth.

The kadomatsu arrangement outside a shrine in Kyushu
The kadomatsu arrangement outside a shrine in Kyushu

Nengajo – I’ve never been a big one for sending Christmas cards but this year, I’m making the attempt to send out a few nengajo, or New Year’s cards. You can find these all over, especially in Japan’s numerous stationary stores.

Hatsumode – You won’t notice this New Year’s tradition unless you’re purposely hanging out at the neighborhood shrine. Hatsumode is the first trip to a shrine for the New Year; many people still go wearing kimono, in accordance with tradition. You’ll also find a lot of people on mountaintops in the first few days of 2014, in attempts to catch the first sunrise of the year.

So, dear readers, wherever you are in the world, I wish you a safe and happy New Year. If any of you are coming to Japan in 2014, please don’t hesitate to be in touch!

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