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  • Writer's picturePhillip Radcliffe

New Year's Day in Japan

Updated: Jan 13, 2023

(Japanese translation below)

By Hiroto Ishii

New Year's Day is the first day of the year and is celebrated by people all over the world. The Japanese call it "Shogatsu," and a variety of events and customs are held to celebrate the New Year. Here are a few of the events celebrated at the New Year in Japan.

The New Year's gift is a custom in which money is given to children by adults, and in Japan this has remained a deeply rooted cultural practice to this day. However, it was not always the custom. In the past, rice cakes were a scarce commodity. As the number of families and households increased during Japan's rapid economic growth period, it changed from giving rice cakes to giving money, as money was more affordable than preparing rice cakes.

Osechi refers to a feast-like dish eaten on New Year's Day, with a variety of ingredients inside. Osechi is placed in a three-tiered box called Jyubako, which means "stacked box" in Japanese, because it is meant to be a layer of congratulations.

The dishes placed in each tier are determined, and each tier has its own meaning. The first tier contains a sweet mouthful like chestnut kuri kinton (candied chestnuts and sweet potatoes) and a celebratory snack that can be used as a snack for sake. Kuromame (black soybeans) is for health and strength.

Because of this, black soybeans are used to wish for diligence and hard work. Kombu Maki (kelp roll) is considered a good luck charm because of the word "yorokobo" (to be happy). Kurikinton (chestnut dumplings) were made by samurai warriors to bring good luck in battle using chestnuts they had gathered after winning a battle, along with kelp.

The second tier contains seafood and grilled dishes for good luck, as well as vinegared and dressed dishes. Buri is a fish known as a "success fish," a wish for success in the future. The meaning of the prawn is to wish for a long life until one's back becomes round like the prawn.

The third tier is a stew made with many ingredients from the mountains. The lotus root has a hole in it, which means to pray for good prospects in the future. Taro root has a meaning of wishing for the prosperity of one's offspring, as many taro offspring are produced from the parent taro.

One event at the beginning of the year in Japan is the buying of a lucky bag (fukubukuro) at department stores. One of the interesting features of this is that you do not know what is in the bag until you buy it. It is usually sold for less than the total price of the combined items, and buyers expect useful and luxurious contents.

However, some stores may have unsold or unpopular items in their bags. It is down to luck whether you get the luxurious and meaningful contents or the contents full of unpopular products. Incidentally, bags filled with only unpopular products are sometimes called "garbage bags" on the Internet.


石井 寛人




それぞれの段に置かれる料理は決まっていて、それぞれの段に意味があります。一の段には、栗きんとんのような甘い口当たりで、酒の肴にもなる祝い肴が入ります。黒豆は健康や強さを願うもの。このことから、黒豆は勤勉や努力を願うために使われる。 昆布巻きは「よろこぶ」という語呂合わせから縁起物とされています。栗きんとんは、武士が戦いに勝って拾った栗と昆布を使って、縁起を担いで作ったもの。





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