9Facts you may not know about the Japanese New Year!

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  • Probably there are different ways to spends holidays of the New Year depending to the cultural backgrounds of every country and also to the families traditions. In Japan also there is a long list of things to do in the New Years in every family, that may be completely new for visitors. How about introducing for you how Japanese spend their time in the moment of the New Year?

    1. Osechi

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    Osechi consists of a selection of a delicious combinations of dried or sweet ingredients, traditionally made such as boiled seaweed (konbu), fish cakes (kamaboko), mashed sweet potato with chestnut (kurikinton), simmered burdock root (kinpira gobō), and sweetened black soybeans (kuromame). The family, in general, will gather in the morning of the New Year and will share the Osechi in a convival and cherful atmoshere.

    2. Kagami Mochi

    Kagami Mochi

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    The sticky white dumpling made from rice is called Mochi, and during the new year, Japanese make a special shape from Mochi and it is called the Kagami Mochi. Prepared with a kind of vegetable soup called ozoni, Japanese eat it before New Year’s Day and during the beginning of January.
    The Kagami Mochi, formed from two round cakes of mochi with a tangerine (daidai) placed on top. The Tangerine is supposed to be a symbol for a good year and prosperity since it means “several generations.”

    3. Eating Toshikoshi-Soba

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    Traditionally, Japanese eat Soba, a typical Japanese noodle, 1 hour before the countdown to the new year. Soba is a pretty tender noodle, so it easy to cut to halves. In ancient times, Japanese believed that eating Soba during the New Year helped “to cut bad things from last year and to have a New wonderful year”.

    4. Going to the shrine

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    Most of Japanese (think that they) don’t have a specific religion, but at the moment of the New year, almost of them visit the shrine around midnight to pray the gods for a good new year to their families and people they love. Monks in shrine ring a huge bell for 108 times the countdown, it is believed that it will reduce 108 of klesha (mental states that cloud the mind and manifest in unwholesome actions). 108 times of bell are equal to 108 of klesha which in Buddhism means the evil passions such as anxiety, fear, anger, jealousy, desire, depression, etc. To reduce the 108 of klesha from their mind, people visit the shrine to hear the bell sounds.

    5. Sending Postcards

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    It seems that the end of December and the beginning of January, it is the busiest times for the Japanese post offices. Japanese have a the tradition to send New Year’s Day postcards. The original intention is to give their faraway friends and relatives tidings of them and their immediate family. This custom existed for people to tell others whom they did not often meet that they were alive and well.

    6. Otoshidama

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    Japanese have a culture of giving money to children during the New Year. This is known as otoshidama. A symbolic amount of money is handed out in small decorated envelopes called pochibukuro.

    7. Kadomatsu

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    The Kodomatsu or the Pine Gate is a traditional Japanese decoration of the New Year placed in pairs in front of homes to welcome ancestral spirits or kami of the harvest.

    8. Shimekazari

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    The Shimekazari are also a traditional Japanese decoration of the New Year, Japanese hang it on top of the house entrance to prevent bad spirits from entering and to invite the Toshigami, or Shinto deity, to descend and visit.

    9. In our days

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    Recently, many young Japanese people tend to stay with their friends at the beginning of the New Year and, in the moment of the countdown, gather with friends in some huge space and countdown together as almost of foreign countries. If you are lucky enough you may see a fireworks show. However, it is known that in Japan, the New Year still kind of family tradition, religiously linked to the Buddhism traditions.