So what is typically done during the New Year in Japan?


year of the snake japan I really love all the traditional New Year celebration in Japan. Apart from the already introduced Osechi Ryori there are so many things to enjoy and to do. Although there are many activities to be done, all is enjoyed in a leisurely pace. The first step towards New Year starts already before the year end. Originally with a truly big cleaning the home should sparkling including the darkest corners latest by December 31. The goal of all this cleaning is to welcome the deity of the new year the Toshigami-Sama (年神様). This originally had religious significance, as it was believed that the God of the New Year visits each household which welcomes them. Of course with these expectations to have a god or potentially several gods coming home for a visit, the house has to shine. In addition to Toshigami-sama there is another group of gods that can be expected coming to respective, suitable homes: The Seven Gods of Fortune (七福神 Shichi Fukujin). Usually they arrive on their treasure ship as depicted below. These seven gods can be visited as well at their respective shrines at the New Year (article with pictures will follow).

Seven Gods of Fortune

Then after midnight with the start of the year typically soba is eaten, but at our home the traditions are a bit different. We have home-made udon. To make udon from scratch is rather time-consuming, but having something so delicious to start off the year, no matter how hard the effort, it is still my favorite way to welcome the New Year.

home made udon

Another activity at the start of the new year is to write some calligraphy with a personal motto. In my case I have used a rather aggressive approach: Furinkazan (風林火山) which actually means “Wind, Forest, Fire and Mountain”.

Japanese writing

Takeda Shingen (Sengoku period daimyo) became famous with this battle approach: “Move as swift as a wind, stay as silent as forest, attack as fierce as fire, undefeatable defense like a mountain.” Personally I prefer some adaptions for a more peaceful approach of “either acting quickly or relax like being in a forest, plus not being afraid of taking actions or otherwise being unmovable when no action is necessary”. It might be a too free personal adaptions, but I still like the concept.

Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (伊藤シビル)

5 thoughts on “So what is typically done during the New Year in Japan?

  1. I like your motto!

    My favorite yojijukugo is 諸行無常, something like, “Change is the only constant.” But my handwriting is atrocious, so I don’t think I’ll dare write it. Ugly kanji have to be bad luck or something.

  2. “The goal of all this cleaning is to welcome the deity of the new year” That applies to some people in the West, my family feel the same way as well here in the UK! The home-made udon looks delicious! Interesting what the script means because if I was to translate it I would think it would only said: “(cannot read the first kanji), forest, fire, mountain” to be honest.

    • Dear NyNy,

      thanks for your compliment on the Udon and taking time to comment on this blog.
      The first character means wind. Note that I had provided a more detailed explanation then below the picture: Quote from Takeda Shingen (Sengoku period daimyo) became famous with this battle approach: “Move as swift as a wind, stay as silent as forest, attack as fierce as fire, undefeatable defense like a mountain.”

      With best regards,

      Sibylle Ito

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