New Year Holidays in Japan: A Week of Family, Food and Fukubukuro
For a lot of us around the world, there are very few times of the year as exciting as New Year’s Eve. A modern celebration often includes staying up until midnight, counting down the seconds to the new year while surrounded by loved ones and strangers. There are fireworks, champagne, and plenty of hugs and kisses to go around, and when the new year’s day rolls around, we go about it like any other, perhaps with an added sense of hope.
Japanese New Year: Oshougatsu
In Japan, New Year isn’t just an one-day affair. Known as ‘Oshougatsu’ (お正月), Japanese New Year is typically marked as a nationwide holiday that lasts about a week, starting from the last few days of December to the first week of January.
How It's Celebrated
New Year’s is a time to be with family. Family members will gather to spend the week-long holiday. For many, this means travelling to other prefectures and back to their hometown, leaving bustling cities like Tokyo unusually quiet.
One common tradition is cleaning your house thoroughly on or before New Year's Eve. Out with the old, in with the new they say. Most people believe in the idea that cleaning your house before the first day of the New Year ensures that you don't carry in your old, somewhat soiled, life into the New Year. Families will then enjoy each others’ company, having meals and watching TV in the comfort of their own home. Many shops, even the big department stores are closed during this time and annual special TV programs will be the highlights until January 1st.
Visiting the Shrines and Temples: Hatsumode
The very first day of New Year’s is for shrine and temple visitations, known as ‘Hatsumode’ (初詣）. People, who visit the shrines, usually pray for a good year, and purchase new good luck charms or ‘Omamori’ (御守り), with the ones from the previous year returned to the shrine to be cleansed and burnt. At this time of the year, it’s not surprising to find long lines leading to the places of worship.
Food for the New Year
No New Year celebration is complete without yummy food. 'Osechi Ryori' (おせち料理) is traditional food enjoyed on New Year's day in Japan, and consists of various foods packed in 'Jubako' (重箱), boxes similar to the bento boxes. Each of these dishes, such as fish-cake, shrimp, and pickles, has its own auspicious meaning like good health, longevity, and prosperity. Starting from November and December, restaurants, department stores, and even convenience stores start taking orders for Osechi to be delivered or picked up for New Year’s Day.
Another dish commonly found on the dining table during this festive period is soba noodles, sometimes called ‘year-crossing soba’ - 'Toshikoshi Soba' (年越し蕎麦). Eaten on New Year’s Eve, or 'Omisoka' (大晦日), long soba noodles represent longevity, and letting go of the hardships of the previous year.
Japanese rice cakes, or ‘Omochi’ (お餅) is widely consumed and prepared in a variety of ways. Pre-packed ‘Kagami-mochi‘ (鏡餅) can be purchased at supermarkets and used as New Year’s decoration to welcome the New Year. It is said that Kagami-mochi contains the 'Toshikami' (年神) - a New Year's deity, who will visit you to bring good luck into the New Year.
After the New Year’s Day, shops will begin to resume operations, and for all shopaholics, this can be as exciting as Black Friday. Besides massive clearance sales, New Year is also the only time you can find 'Fukubukuro' (福袋), or lucky bags.
Trust us, there’s a lot to look forward to when it comes to these Fukubukuro. Available from shops everywhere in Japan, from Starbucks to your favourite local and international boutiques, these lucky bags contain undisclosed items, each organized in a theme or category — beauty, fashion, jewelry, home supplies, cosmetics, kitchen tools and many more. Since the concept of Fukubukuro is about trying your luck, the contents of these bags are only revealed once you buy them. And Fukubukuro are packed with merchandise from the store with a value guaranteed to exceed the amount paid. These can be special limited-edition items, or otherwise expensive items with their prices slashed.
Experience the excitement of unboxing Fukubukuro! Check out our Fukubukuro by clicking here. May the New Year bless you with good health, good luck, and happiness.