Shogatsu: New year

New year is the most important and the most elaborate of all events that took place in Japan. Whilst, there are differences in the local customs on how new year is celebrated, at this time all the houses are thoroughly cleaned and decorated and the holidays are celebrated with family members, friends and many people visit shrines. officially, new is observed from 1st January to 3rd January, and during this period all the schools, colleges and offices are closed.

these preparations for the new year are undertaken to greet the toshigami; the god of the incoming year (the chinese zodiac gods, for eg. year 2021 is the year of the Ox). cleaning of the houses start early and then the houses are decorated traditionally; ‘shimenawa’ or the sacred rope made out of straw with white papers dangling on it known as the ‘shide’ is hung over at the front door as a mark of the toshigami’s temporary abode and in order to keep the evil spirits away. ‘Kadomatsu’ or an arrange ment of tree springs are also placed at the entrance of the house. The ‘toshidana’ or the special alter for the toshigami is placed and is filled with the ‘kagamimochi’ or the rice cakes along with ‘sake’, persimmons and other special food all to honor the toshigami, who is residing in the house temporarily.

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The night before the new year is called the ‘omisoka’. A large number of people visit Buddhist temples to hear the bell ring 108 times at midnight that is believed to end all evil of the last year. People believe that eating the ‘toshikoshi soba’ or the year-crossing noodles will extend family fortune just like the long noodles.

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The very first day of the new year known as the ‘ganjitsu’ is celebrated with family members. People also visit shrines and temples on this day. Early in the morning of 1st January the emperor performs the rite of ‘shihohai’ in the imperial palace and prays for the prosperity of the nation. On the 2nd of January, the public is allowed to visit the inner grounds of the palace. On the 2nd and 3rd January people meet with their friends and acquaintances and extend greetings for the new year.

Oshogatsu and Koshogatsu

Shogatsu means the first month of the year. ‘Oshogatsu’ or the’ big new year’ is calculated by the Gregorian calendar and ‘koshogatsu’ or the ‘small new year’ is calculated according to the lunar calendar.. Koshogatsu starts with the first full moon of the year, i.e. from 15th January.