The Year End of Japan
Trees in towns all over Japan turn red and yellow come November and December as many of the illuminated town centers prove focal points for either Christmas shoppers or company and personal festive and end-of-year related events towards the end of December. In traditional Japanese style however, the day after Christmas; Boxing Day, the Santa displays are soon replaced with those targeting New Year’s celebrations.
New Year’s Postcards
1949 was the year New Year’s postcards with lottery numbers were first sold and today many Japanese are overwhelmed with the number of postcards they must write. However, while it used to be troublesome for those who sent a pile of cards only to write their recipients’ address, as they had to write the address by hand, now, by printing the address using a PC, another of life’s annual tasks has been made a little easier although the numbers sent do still take time and effort.
In Japan, exchanging New Year’s postcards is like exchanging Christmas cards bar for the fact that Japanese do not send cards to those in mourning over the past 12 months. The post cards themselves are significant in helping to maintain good relations with friends or acquaintances by expressing gratitude to those who have taken care of them, informing friends and family of recent news and asking after the recipients. Unlike Christmas cards though, New Year’s postcards must not be delivered before the New Year’s Day and even if you drop them into a post box in mid-December, they are delivered on the morning of January 1.
O-soji (Cleaning the house thoroughly)
In Japan, it is a seasonal norm to clean the house thoroughly prior to New Year’s Day. Although few houses continue to decorate gates with pine branches nowadays, adding a “shimenawa” stylized straw rope (that separates sacred Shinto precincts from the unclean outer world) to our cars or homes is usual.
O-misoka (December. 31)
December 31, “o-misoka” (New Year’s Eve) is an important day to spend wrapping up the old year and preparing for the next.
Several decades ago, preparation for New Year used to make people very busy, making rice cakes and cooking osechi (a special New Year’s dish) but lately increasing numbers of families opt to buy pre-cooked osechi at department stores or high-class Japanese-style restaurants.
At home on New Year’s Eve, family members often eat soba (buckwheat noodles) and stay up until the early hours of New Year’s Day watching televisions or listening to radios broadcasting annual music programs – programs that always seem to include a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.
At midnight temples ring bells 108 times to speed out the old year and welcome in the new in and event called “joya-no-kane.”
*The information herein is as of Dec. 2019.