Culture & Traditions: January

The topic of September is The New Year’s Day “O-SHOOGATSU”

A Happy New Year

“January the first” is called “Ganjitsu” or “Gantan”, the day on which the birth of the new year is celebrated. Nobody works on the first three days of the new year, the period called “san-ga-nichi” or “shoogatsu”. Shoogatsu originally referred to the whole of January, but now is used just to refer to these three days. On these days, the people go to shrines, visit friends and relatives, drink sake and eat special new-year dishes, called “osechi”. Children play “karuta” (Japanese card games), spinning “koma” (a top), flying “tako” (a kite) and play “hane-tsuki” (battledore and shuttlecock). “Kado-matsu” (a pair of the New Year’s pine decorations are decorated in front of the gate which symbolizes a tree provided for the descent of the gods.

Traditional Japanese style New Year’s celebration is where all members of the family sit together and start New Year’s breakfast beginning with a toast and sipping “o-toso” (spiced sake). “Zooni” (rice cakes boiled with vegetables) are what characterize the main breakfast taken on the morning of the New Year’s Day (Jan. 1st, 2nd & 3rd). Every family or every region has it’s own style zooni, such as clear soup or bean soup, putting various kinds of vegetables, chicken, fish or clams in the soup with round or square “mochi” (rice cake).

Quite a few people make New Year’s Resolutions on January the 1st, as the proverb says, “The plan should be made on the New Year’s Day”. They also put some money offering “sai-sen” into an offeratory chest at the shrine and pray for good health, happiness and prosperity or even make a pledge to start doing something or quit doing something, starting “this year”.

On January 7, some people eat rice porridge with seven kinds of spring herbs “nana-kusa gayu” which was believed in ancient times to be capable of preventing and curing every known disease. The custom which marks the end of shogatsu is the cutting and eating of the “kagami-mochi” New Year’s rice cakes offered on the household altar. On January 11, those round mirror-shaped rice cakes are cut or broken to pieces, toasted, put into heated sweet red-bean soup “o-shiruko” and then eaten by the whole family.

2015 is in the year of “Sheep” (Hitsuji) 未年 among of the twelve symbols of the Chinese zodiac. Those who were born in the year of sheep are 1919, 1931, 1943, 1955, 1967, 1979, 1991, 2003 and 2015.

Those born in the Year of the Sheep are elegant, charming and artistic. Their creativity and artistic temperament may cause them to feel insecure and unloved, but their gentle and caring nature brings them many admirers and friends.

Wishing the year 2015 will turn out to be a happier and more peaceful year to you and the world.