Photo: Kirishima Jingu in Kirishima, Kagoshima
The New Year holiday in Japan is full of traditional activities and events. In the last article, I talked about the traditional food Osechi that is eaten, so this article, I’d like to share a some of the things that people do during the new year period. Japan started to celebrate New Year on January 1st in 1873, when the new Meiji Government changed from Japanese calendar to the western Gregorian calendar. Many of the traditional events were kept and celebrated even after the change.
After spending 10 years in Japan, it is my opinion that the New Year holiday is less about the countdown celebration and more about what the festivities, events, and symbolism. That’s not to say the countdown is ignored. Throughout Japan, especially in the big cities, there are countdown parties and firework shows to bring in the new year. Traditionally, though, the New Year holiday was a symbol of rebirth or a reset of the seasons and thus observed as an “unstable” time of the year. Families and shops would shut their doors tightly and remain inside quietly to not draw attention from the evil spirits or gods passing by while appreciating the safe year that had passed and pray for a happy and prosperous year to come.
There is an old tradition in Japan where people would dress like demons and visit houses with children to scare them in to not doing bad things. While this tradition has long been forgotten throughout much of Japan, it can still be observed in some areas of Kagoshima where it is known as Toshidon, specifically on the island of Koshikishima in Satsuma Sendai City.
While many of the traditional activities can only be found in rural areas, one thing has remained a must do for nearly all Japanese people. That is Hatsumode, which is the first visit to a shrine of the new year. Traditionally, families wanted to be blessed by the gods as soon as possible and without being distracted by doing other things, so families would visit their local shrine at first light or even in the middle of the night. While many people don’t do it as a family anymore, it is still very popular to visit a shrine on New Year’s Day. Omamori (protection) charms and other related goods from the previous year are brought to the shrines to be safely burned and new charms and fortunes are purchased.
For anyone visiting Japan during New Year season, visiting a shrine is highly recommended. It is not only a fun activity, but also a great chance to observe traditional Japanese culture. You should note, though, that some of the major shrines in Japan, such as Meiji Shrine (Tokyo), Narita-san (Chiba), and Fushimi Inari Shrine (Kyoto) host nearly 3 million visitors in the first 3 days and while require some wait time. That shouldn’t discourage you from going, though, as there is often festival like activities and yatai food stalls to keep you entertained and your stomach happy.
People are visiting to Kamo Shrine for a new year day
Author: Kagoshima Cameron