Flowers in Japan

New year’s festivals

New Year’s Festivals

A festive spirit pervades the air thorughout the entire length and breadth of Japan during the first fifteen days of January. The New Year’s (oshougatsu) celebration is an integral part of the life of all the people of Japan.

New year

New year

A quiet but vibrant spirit of jubilation typifies the first two weeks of the New Year. A bouquet of pine and bamboo (kodamatsu), symbolizing stability and righteousness, is placed at the entrances of dwellings and business establishments.

There is also a traditional door decoration consisting of straw rope (symbolizing unity), a small orange (symbolizing long life for the family), a piece of fern (denoting purity and fertility), a bit of seaweed (meaning happiness), and lobster (symbolizing long life for members of the present generation).

People in towns and cities are exuberant and lively as they visit friends and relatives to offer their season’s greeting. The expression of appreciation is considered of utmost importance in every aspect of life in Japan, and many customs and rites have their origin in this concept.

During the New Year’s celebration period, farmers decorate their ploughs, fishermen their boats, nets and other tools — all as an expression of gratitude to those inanimate objects that assist them in the earning of their living.

Kite flying by small boys and the game of battledore and shuttlecock enjoyed by girls are also expressions of the New Year spirit. Battledores are made with elaborate skill. They are decorated with the faces of stage and cinema stars, historical warriors, kabuki actors, and other prominent personalities.

New Year’s Day (Gantan)

Preparation for welcoming the new year traditionally begin before sunrise in the Japanese home on New Year’s Day (gantan). Everybody dresses in their best outfit, and the head of the house or the first born son draws the first water of the year (wakamizu) from the well, or from the faucet if no well is available.

The water is poured into a basin and everyone in the family washes their face. Candles are lighted on the family altar and the first rice cake is served to the ancestors. All the members of the family then gather around the table and exchange formal New Year’s greetings, saying, ‘Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu’.

Next the head of the family serves ceremonial wine and then everybody eats a bowl of the traditional rice cake soup called ozouni. Many other traditional foods are ready to be eaten during the next few days, including seasoned heering roe, sweet black beans, boiled fish paste, egg roll mixed with white fish meat, candied dried small fish, rolled seaweed, fish salad, and mashed sweet potato with sweetened chesnuts.

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Source : Hideo Haga, Japanese Festivals.

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