Called oshougatsu in Japanese, the New Year’s holiday is a time reserved for visiting family and reflecting on both the past and coming years. Contrary to the party-heavy celebrations in many countries, Japan’s way of celebrating is serene and steeped in rich tradition.
One aspect of this season that’s unique to Japan is the selection of the Kanji of the Year, presented annually in December by the Japan Kanji Aptitude Testing Foundation. Kanji is the name given to the Chinese characters that make up one of the three alphabets used to write Japanese. The kanji selected to best represent 2021 is 金 kin, meaning ‘gold’. This is to mainly represent the premiere global event of the past year, namely the Olympics, which were held belatedly in Tokyo over the summer.
Since it’s Japan, there’s bound to be some fun, kawaii ways to enjoy the holiday, right? Luckily, that’s surely the case! This year it’s a bit difficult to partake in overseas travel, but we’ll share how to spend the best kawaii New Year’s in Japan so that you’ll be ready to celebrate when the time comes! And the best thing? Many of these activities, with a few adjustments, can more or less be celebrated outside Japan too!
The term hatsumode is made up of two Japanese kanji characters: 初詣
‘Hatsu’ means ‘first’ and ‘mode’ means ‘shrine visit’. Just as its name suggests, it’s the all-important first visit to the shrine in the new year. During this visit the purpose is to pray for good luck throughout the upcoming year. Even among people who may not be very religious it’s a custom that the vast majority gladly participate in. Learn about the hatsumode tradition here!
When you’re about to head off to perform hatsumode, you’ve got plenty of choices when it comes to which shrine or temple to visit. Why not choose a so-called ‘kawaii shrine’? These locations have been made famous, especially in recent years, due to the particular deities that the particular shrine is dedicated to, or certain specialties that it has. In Tokyo there is an awesome temple dedicated to cats, and a shrine dedicated to foxes. They’re both great choices for visiting, especially around New Year’s! Read more about this kawaii shrine and temple here!
Get familiar with some famous characters & personas from Japanese folktales and stories at New Year’s! These stories, passed down by generations and beloved by people both young and old, are popular throughout the season as the lessons contain a message of positivity and encouragement to help us start the new year on the right foot. In YumeTwins’ January 2022 box, we paid homage to these personages with the help of the always costume-ready Hello Kitty! Read all about these folktale heroes and see how Hello Kitty portrays them here!
Ema are beautiful, double-sided wooden plaques on which visitors to shrines or temples during New Year’s hatsumode can write a wish on the backside and hang up at said shrine or temple in order for their wish to come true. The word ’ema’ itself can be translated as ‘horse picture’ and ones with horses are still the most popular designs. The traditional ema design that includes a horse will never go out of style and you won’t find a shrine without one. However, it’s quite fun to see each year what new kinds of takes on this beloved tradition have been brought about. Read about kawaii and unique ema designs here!
Another tradition during a Japanese New Year’s celebration that can’t be missed during the hatsumode is the always popular omikuji. These paper fortunes can be somewhat nerve wracking because you never know what you’re gonna get, and nobody wants to be told they’ll have bad luck! But they’re also fun because they stop and make you think, and the surprise is half of the fun as well! Plus, if you do receive a fortune of bad luck, rest assured that there’s a way out. You can leave your fortune tied to a tree or designated spot on the shrine or temple grounds, and try your luck again with a new omikuji! Learn more details here about omikuji, like the different levels of good and bad luck!
Another classic at shrines and temples during New Year’s, be sure to stock up on omamori! Many people keep them on their keys, in their cars, on their backpacks, or decorated in their room. ‘Mamori’ basically means ‘protection’ or ‘care’ and they’re even popular as gifts for friends or loved ones. Read more about omamori here!
And there you have it, you’ll definitely be able to have a fun and even kawaii celebration for New Years! What are some of the points of a New Year’s holiday in Japan that you think are most interesting? Let us know what you think in the comments section below!
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