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New Year in Japan

Meiji Shrine, Tokyo, Japan. Preparations for the New Year Celebrations

Meiji Shrine, Tokyo, Japan. Preparations for the New Year Celebrations

There are many New Year traditions in Japan. The most significant is perhaps a visit to the local shinto shrine. Preparations at the shrine start days if not weeks before the event. At Meiji Shrine in central Tokyo, bottles of soy sauce and salt were on display ready to be blessed.

Meiji Shrine, Tokyo, Japan. Preparations for the New Year Celebrations

Meiji Shrine, Tokyo, Japan. Preparations for the New Year Celebrations

Various priests were preparing the grounds of the temple. The rope around the tree trunk is called a shimenawa and indicates that the tree is sacred.

Meiji Shrine, Tokyo, Japan. Preparations for the New Year Celebrations

Meiji Shrine, Tokyo, Japan. Preparations for the New Year Celebrations

Visitors to the temple were getting a head start on writing their hopes and dreams on the wooden ema prayer boards. This is a smart thing to do if you want to avoid the tens of thousands who will visit on New Year’s Day.

Meiji Shrine, Tokyo, Japan. Preparations for the New Year Celebrations

Meiji Shrine, Tokyo, Japan. Preparations for the New Year Celebrations

Houses are decorated with shogatsukazari (New Year’s wreaths) these can be bought at department stores or even on the street.

Japanese woman shopping for a New Years wreath, Tokyo, Japan

Japanese woman shopping for a New Year’s wreath, Tokyo, Japan

Here’s one on a traditional house in Arashiyama, Kyoto.

New Year's Decorations - Arashiyama, Kyoto

New Year’s Decorations – Arashiyama, Kyoto

For many the highlight of the New Year is the chance to get a bargain in a fukubukuro lucky bag. A 5,000 Yen bag is likely to contain items worth 10,000 yen or more, but you don’t know what you’re getting. Clothing stores often put gender and size on the bag, but unless you start prizing apart the sealed opening you  are taking a bit of a fashion gamble.

Fukubukuro New Years Sale Bags from Bic Camera, Shinjuku, Tokyo

Fukubukuro New Years Sale Bags from Bic Camera, Shinjuku, Tokyo

Of course there are many other traditions including giving an envelope with cash to children (otoshidama) and eating balls of sticky gelatinous rice (mochi). Otoshidama and mochi can result in having a house full of Pokemon, and / or killing off elderly relatives. You have been warned.

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