Usually, 1/4 or Monday of the next week of 1/1 is first business day of the new year in Japan, where, many business people go to see and show new year greetings to their customers with some gifts.
This new year gift is called “Onenga” (お年賀) in Japanese.
It is said that this custom was born in “Edo” era (江戸時代, around mid 1600), when people obtained peaceful lives and merchants were flourished.
Local “Samurai” used to visit “Shogun” with their local products.
Traders and merchants brought sweets, sake or liquor on their first business day of the year.
Nowadays, most popular “Onega” is Towel.
Why Towel ?
It seems to be because Towel is cheep and good for daily use.
Sometimes, the towel has a company or merchants name printed, that is to be exposed every time used, and it works to go deeply into the customers memory.
Just like Christian people exchange Christmas cards, Japanese people start preparing to send New Year Greeting cards, called “Nenga-Jo” (年賀状) in Japanese, to their friends, families, relatives, and business affiliates in this season.
Usually, Oriental Zodiac or Earthly Branches in another words, called “Juni-shi” (十二支) or “Eto”(干支) in Japanese, of the year is used as pictures on “Nenga-jo”.
“Juni-shi” is ancient China originated system of reckoning time, that spread out and have been used in many Asian countries such as Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, Mongolia and Japan.
This system was built from observations of the orbit of Jupiter and Chinese astronomers divided the celestial circle into 12 sections to follow the orbit. It developed to be used for counting year, month, time, and azimuth direction.
The Chinese characters that represent “Juni-shi” or “Eto” are, 子丑寅卯辰巳午未申酉戌亥, and each character has its own animal assigned.
子(Ne)=Mouse 丑(Ushi)=Cow 寅(Tora)=Tiger 卯(U)=Rabbit 辰(Tatsu)=Dragon 巳(Mi)=Snake 午(Uma)=Horse
未(Hitsuji)=Sheep 申(Saru)=Monkey 酉(Tori)=Chicken 戌(Inu)=Dog 亥(I)= Hog
In Vietnam, 丑=Buffalo, 卯=Cat, 未=Goat, and 亥(I)=Pig.
In Thailand, they also interpret 未=Goat, and 亥(I)=Pig.
In China, 亥(I)=Pig.
Sometimes, 寅=Leopard in Mongolia.
Sorry, it took long lines to explain about “Eto”….
Getting back to “Nenga-jo”, “Eto” animal for 2012 was Dragon.
The motif of the cards are not only pictures but also Kanji was arranged to look like the year animal.
And, the 2013 animal is Snake !
Although, sometimes it may be “pain” to prepare so many cards at one time, and less people follow this traditional custom every year, wouldn’t it be nice to know each other’s update by exchanging fancy greeting
Fortunately, compared to the past when we had to make the cards by hand writing and paintings, there are may tools of modern technology, such as computers, printers and application softwares that help to ease up the work, these days !
It is already in December. At the end of Year, there are many fairs in temples throughout Japan. My favorite one is Hagoita-ichi (Battledore Fair) in Asakusa and will be held in Sensou-ji Temple, Asakusa(Tokyo) from Dec. 17th to 19th this year.
The hagoita originated in China and was brought over to Japan during the Muromachi period(14 – 16th century). Hagoita were used as decorative battledores or presented as New Year gifts. Hagoita were believed to repel evil, and had connotations of healthy growth.
In the late Edo period(19th century), a Chinese technique called ‘oshi’ was first used for hagoita. A design is made, then cardboard is tacked against a board, which is covered with cloth to give a 3-d effect.
At that time, like ukiyo-e, hagoita featured similar designs with portraits of Kabuki actors being very popular. At the annual year-end fairs in Edo, many people bought hagoita with portraits of popular actors. Today, beautiful hagoita make a popular gift as a traditional Tokyo handicraft to bring luck at New Year.
Hagoita-ichi is a traditional fair dating back to the Edo Period, but it was apparently only after World War II that the name Hagoita-Ichi became popular. Many visitors come each year. The Hagoita-ichi is an annual fair held in its precincts at the end of the year. Near the Hondo or main hall of Senso-ji Temple, some 50 open-air stalls selling hagoita (battledores), shuttlecocks, kites and other New Year decorations stand huddled together, and numerous people gather here from all over the country. The market was full of “decorations” for new years that bring good luck for the coming year.
Additionally, at the Hagoitaichi, hagoita with pictures of the people who received the most attention during the year, are notable and are often taken up by the media. There are various hagoita, so find your favorite one!
It is also called “Chinese New Year”, and there still exist customs that celebrate this “old” new year in some areas such as China, Korea, and Viet Nam.
The fist date (1/1) varies depending on the year, and it is usually between 1/22 and 2/19 of solar calendar.
Here, in Japan, people used to use lunar calendar until Gregorian calendar was adopted in 1872 (Meiji era), though most of people do not even know about it anymore these days.
On 2/11, we attended New year party, or “Shinnenkai”(新年会) in Japanese. It was an assembly for those who are learning Kimono sewing from Ms. Tanabe, a “Kimono Meister”. (I have learned Kimono sewing for more than 12 years !)
When you hear about a new year party in February, you may ask “Why new year party in February ?”
It has wonderful, beautiful, well-mended Japanese garden with small water falls, bridges, and water mills.
Look ! Water mill with its water frozen while wheeling !
The dish was not bad, but it did not make the attendees full, which was never cheap,,, but,,,taking the nice views and romms in independent traditional houses, which should require huge cost and manpower to maintain, into consideration, it’s OK (o_<)/
Ms. Tanabe, Kimono Meister, or , “Shisho”(師匠) in Japanese, has sewed Kimonos for 50 years. She has made more than 15000 Kimonos in her artisan life !
As this year marks 50 years anniversary for her, her students including myself, or “Deshi”(弟子) in Japanese, also celebrated her with her family.
In every “Shinnenkai”, “Deshi” have to wear their own-made Kimono !
Because of winter season, everybody wears coat outside.
Unfortunately, we missed to take pictures of their beautiful Kimono and Obi….
By the way, 2/11 is National Foundation Day for Japan.
Does this date have something todo with lunar new year…???
In your country, are there any incidents occurred when a particular day comes ?
In Japan, we have ‘Koromo-gae’ means a seasonal change of clothing. June 1st is the first day to wear summer clothes and October 1st is the first day of winter clothes. School uniforms, government officer’s uniform (like policeman), people change clothing from those days.
Is there any special clothing for New Year’s or Christmas in your country ?
Maybe, your father wore a Santa Claus costume when you were kid. In Japan, wearing Kimono in New Year’s day is less and less popular in the last 20 years , but I realized that many people are stilling wearing Kimono in the TV program and TV commercials when New Year’s coming. Check these.
I thanks for those. Because they remind us that New Year’s is a very special and we should be formal. (But I am lazy in New Year’s and I like being casual because it is more comfortable.)
By the way, you may be wondering how we are cerebrating Christmas day. Most of us are not christian, so the popular thing to do on Christmas day is not going to the church though many kids believe Santa Claus like yours. We are going to have fun with our partner or friends. Some people go to a nice restaurant, a party, or Disneyland. Then, on New Year’s day, we go home and spend time with family quietly.
Anyway, the most important information for you is when the season’s sale starts. In Japan, most of the retail stores start from July 1st for summer sale and from January 2nd for winter sales. So if you are planning to visit japan, you better come on those dates.
There used to be a lot of traditional, complicated customs to celebrate new years in Japan.
Being less interested in traditions, or maybe lazy, the customs are getting more simplified..
Here, you may get some picture of how modern Japanese new year celebration is…
When the year end is coming, usually aroud 12/25, a pair of KADOMATSU is placed in front of the entrance.
12/29 is avoided for the day because 9 sounds similar to the word that means “Pain” in Japanese.
Kadomatsu in front of Department Store
Basically, there are two types of KADOMATSU as below. Can you tell the difference ?
I decorated my home entrance with midget KADOMATSU and KAGAMIMOCHI. Cute ??
On 12/31, most of Japanese people eat “Toshikoshi Soba” noodle, wishing for long and healthy lives and preparing for a new year.
Then,,,when 1/1 comes, it’s time to visit either Shrine of Temple for “HATSUMOUDE” to make a wish !
I went to Anahachiman shirine wearing Kimono on 1/1 and Yakuoin temple on Mr. Takao on 1/2.
It was my first time to watch mountain priests in line chanting a Buddhist sutra.
I felt the atmosphere of awe.
Mt. Takao Priests
Mt. Takao Priests2
Mt. Takao priests3
When you go to a shrine, you should try “OMIKUJI”, a paper that tells your fortune.
My OMIKUJI was “DAIKICHI”, which means very good luck. It was nice new year start expecting something wonderful to happen this year, wasn’t it ??
Coming back from HATSUMODE, I enjoyed “OZONI”, a kind of soup with rice cakes.
This is one of traditional dish for new year, but this makes you fat if you each too many rice cakes !
Unfortunately, my new year holidays ended on the night of 1/2, as I had to start working from the night…..
KimoKame is a labor of love from a team of Japanese who want
to promote high-quality Japanese handmade products to the world.