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YumeTwins Kawaii Culture BlogNew Year’s Traditions: Fun Ones You Should Know!

New Year’s Traditions: Fun Ones You Should Know!

By James Lau
December 27, 2023
A figurine of kagami mochi, bamboo, and other New Year's Traditions.

At the beginning of each year, there are fun traditions that Japanese people use to celebrate the new year! Out of all these New Year’s traditions, there are four traditions that everyone will enjoy! Let’s look at some fun traditions Japanese people use to celebrate the New Year!

Nengajo

The New Year has a special place in the hearts of the Japanese people. People participate in many traditions, but none are more memorable than nengajo or New Year’s greeting cards!

Nengajo comes from nenshi-mawari, where the first days of the New Year are used to thank people who helped you in the past year. The tradition changed during the Meiji period, when postcards were first used, making nengajo popular around Japan!

A postcard for nengajo.
Nenjgajo are the Japanese equivalent of Christmas cards, only they’re for New Year’s! Image via Shutterstock

Some people might create their nengajo, but people buy them from stores or the post office these days! Premade nengajo often has designs like zodiac animals, Mount Fuji, or Hello Kitty and Mickey Mouse characters.

The timing of sending these cards is essential. Nengajo must be delivered precisely on January 1st. When you get your nengajo, often tied together and arriving on time, it’s like unwrapping presents on Christmas morning!

Onenga

Onenga is a way to thank those who have helped you during the year! This tradition involves giving gifts to say thanks during the year-end holidays! Giving onenga helps maintain positive relationships with others.

Popular onenga choices include sweets or practical items that everyone in the family can enjoy! The timing of presenting onenga gifts is also essential and must be done during December to show thanks before the end of the year.

An onenga label on top of a kimono.
Onenga are end-of-year gifts! Image via Shutterstock

When giving an onenga gift, a specific type of wrapping called noshi and a decorative cord called mizuhiki is used! The noshi has a red and white design with five knots for good luck!

Onenga is written on the upper part, and the giver’s name is below the central knot. When you give an onenga, you tell someone just how important they are to you! Don’t just deliver it through Amazon or mail it; make sure you give it to them in person!

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Hatsumode

Hatsumode, the first shrine visit of the New Year, is a tradition that combines reflection and celebration. At midnight on New Year’s Eve, temple bells ring, marking the official arrival of the new year.

The Kanda Shrine, a place where people visit for New Year's traditions.
Hatsumode is the first shrine visit of the New Year. Image via Shutterstock

Families and individuals go to shrines to pray for good fortune, health, and happiness in the coming year. The atmosphere, with food stalls and performances, turns Hatsumode into a happy community gathering that creates a positive tone for the year ahead.

While January 1st is the typical day for Hatsumode, some families go on the 2nd or 3rd to avoid crowds. During Hatsumode, individuals visit shrines or temples, discard old omamori or good luck charms, and buy new ones for the new year ahead! Visitors can also get omikuji, written oracles predicting their luck for the year. 

Otoshidama

During the New Year celebrations in Japan, children eagerly wait to receive gifts called otoshidama in special envelopes known as “pochi-bukuro.” These envelopes have money inside and have outside designs, from zodiac animals to iconic Japanese symbols.

The practice came from Japanese legends, where money is both a gift and an offering to the Shinto gods, particularly the protectors of the New Year, known as toshigami.

An envelope that makes up an otoshidama.
Otoshidama is an envelope full of money! Image via Shutterstock

Over time, the tradition transformed into giving gifts and eventually becoming “otoshidama” when given expressly to children. During the Edo period, Otoshidama were often gifts like mochi and mandarin oranges.

Preschoolers might receive around ¥2,000, while elementary, junior, and high school students may receive varying amounts. When people reach the age of 20, they usually stop receiving otoshidama, marking their change into adults in Japan.

Why are these New Year’s traditions so fun?

These New Year’s traditions bring joy to everyone in unique ways! Nengajo greeting cards allow you to show thanks through words and letters, while Onenga is a great way to build on your positive relationships!

An ornament that represents New Year's traditions.
Which New Year’s traditions would you like to try? Image via Shutterstock

These Japanese New Year celebrations have changed, combining tradition with the now! Each tradition has its charm, but share themes of saying thanks, appreciating those who helped you, and preparing for the new year!

When you’re in Japan during the New Year’s, there’s nothing better than to join in on the fun! Whether you want to visit your first shrine of the year or receive otoshidama, try out these Japanese New Year’s traditions! Have you ever participated in any of these traditions? Which one did you like the best? Let us know in the comments below!

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