New Year’s in Japan

New Year’s, or oshogatsu(お正月しょうがつ) in Japanese, is definitely one of the most important holidays in Japan, if not the most important. In a country where most people can’t get a decent holiday, this is most people’s longest one, along with Golden Week. A lot of people get a week or nine days off, and it is one of the few times people can truly unwind and enjoy a relaxing holiday. Most business even close down for a few days, the only time of the year when this happens too.


However, as this is a very important time of the year in Japan, there are still a quite few traditions and obligations associated with this holiday. Here and in my next article I’m going to list the most common ones.


First of all, since most of the country is off at the same time, it is tradition for most people to go back to their parents’ hometown, and sometimes their in-laws’ as well, to spend a few days with family. Traveling abroad is uncommon and trips at this time of the year are expensive. This is definitely a holiday to relax and take it easy. While in most other countries New Year’s celebrations are bombastic affairs with fireworks and street parties, this holiday is actually very muted in Japan, with a lot of people just having dinner, watching TV and going to bed early.


A lot of people eat soba (buckwheat flour noodles) on New Year’s Eve. The length of these noodles symbolize a long, prosperous life. Mochi, or rice cake, is also popular, and its sticky nature leads to some deaths by asphyxiation this time of the year, which tend to make the news. Most families also eat osechi around this time, a traditional New Year’s meal consisting of a fancy lunchbox in which each ingredient symbolizes something such as fortune, joy, and other forms of luck we wish for the new year. After a quiet night, it is tradition to watch the first sunrise of the year, especially from a high place such as a mountain.


Another tradition associated with New Year’s is that of going to a shrine or temple, getting a fortune slip that tells you what you will succeed or fail at this year, and then praying for good luck for the new year, as well as getting a fortune slip. Some of the most famous shrines can be really crowded at this time of the year.


There are too many traditions related to New Year’s to cover in one article, so we’ll talk about the others next time!

Hi, I’m Sergio.
I’m from Spain, lived in the UK for seven years and came to Japan in 2012.
I majored in journalism in London and have been teaching English in Tokyo.
I like traveling, cycling, photography, movies, and spending time with friends.
I wrote articles about life in Japan as a foreigner and anything that I might find interesting.
My email is ” “, by all means contact me about anything!


Related links:
New Year Celebration in Japan
Japan’s fascination with blood types
Celebrating Christmas in Japan
Enjoying hot springs in Japan
The cheapest accommodation in Japan: Jiko Bukken
Making the most out of night life in Japan



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