Monday, January 04, 2010

Japanese New Year

I hope the New Year has started out well for everyone. We just got back to Tokyo this weekend after spending a few days with the in-laws to celebrate the New Year, or o-shogatsu. Japan used to follow the Chinese lunar calendar but adopted the Gregorian calendar about 140 years ago and has followed it since. This is why the Japanese New Year starts on January 1st whereas the Chinese New Year is celebrated later, in case anyone was wondering.

The population of Tokyo decreases considerably during the New Year's holidays as many people return to their hometowns to visit with family, and we were among them. We started our trip by buying some Kyoto style bento boxes for the shinkansen (bullet train).

bento bento
I love the packaging, but it tasted pretty good too.

After we arrived we spent some time visiting with H's family and others. Then on New Year's Eve it started to snow and by the next morning, it looked something like this!

snow on New Year's Day

Sometimes we try to go out to visit a local shrine or go somewhere around the town where H's parents live but this year we mostly just stayed put, out of the wind and snow. Tokyo almost never gets snow though so I was happy to be able to see it at least once this year.

A lot of the New Year's celebrations revolve around food.  On New Year's Eve, we had toshikoshi soba (happy year end buckwheat noodles). The noodles are long and signify longevity. Then on New Year's Day we had the traditional o-zoni soup.  I couldn't help thinking of the nameless cat in Soseki Natsume's I Am a Cat, and his experience in Volume One attempting to eat some leftover mochi.


We also ate osechi, the quintessential New Year's food. Typically the preparation is done beforehand so minimal cooking is needed during the first couple of days of the new year, and traditionally each ingredient has some special significance. You can read about some of them by clicking on the link above.

And then it was time to take the shinkansen again. Back in Tokyo, we visited Takahata Fudoson shrine, for Hatsumode, the first visit to a shrine in the New Year to pray for health, and success in the coming year. Even though it was the afternoon of the 3rd (the peak is on January 1st), and not a big shrine like Meiji Jingu in central Tokyo, it was still quite busy.

People lined up behind us to appeal to the gods for a good year in 2010.

So the New Year's rituals are complete and it's very nice to be home. I only had my iPhone with me so I'm really looking forward to starting to catch up on blog-related stuff this week. Finally, right?
Note: The Hello Japan! mini-challenge for January will be up tomorrow.


  1. As always, thank you for giving us a taste of Japan :)

  2. What an interesting post! I loved the peek into Japan, and those bento boxes are adorable. :D

  3. OMG the food all looks SO good! It's funny, even without eating o-zoni I still had to think of Soseki's cat on new year's day!

    I'm glad to hear you had a nice time :)

  4. Oh, wow. I'm hungry now! Thanks for sharing your new years celebration with us. And, of course, Happy New Year!

  5. Sounds like you had a wonderful time. Happy New Year!

  6. Wow! Great pictures! I can't WAIT to get to Japan! So beautiful. . .

  7. I love Japanese new year and all the rituals that go with it. It's such a family-oriented holiday isn't it? The obento and osechi ryori look wonderful and very yummy! And thank you for putting up pictures of your trip to the shrine. Wishing you a wonderful year!

  8. What beautiful pictures :-) I love the bento boxes and the beautiful way they're wrapped. And the snow! Happy New Year, my friend.

  9. Wow! You got a lot of snow!! It always looks so pretty, doesn't it? I think we should be warming up (relatively speaking) this coming week, but there's more snow in the forecast for next weekend. I am so ready for spring!

  10. A little late, but Happy New Year!

  11. Nymeth - You're welcome. :)

    Eva - Glad you enjoyed it, even though we didn't go anywhere special this year. :)

    gnoegnoe - That's so funny that you were thinking of the cat too! :)

    Lorin - Sorry, about making you hungry that is. Happy New Year to you too!

    Iliana - It was pretty low key but that was nice. I hope the new year has started out well for you!

    brizmus - Are you planning to come to Japan any time soon?

    chasingbawa - Thank you. I hope 2010 is a wonderful year for you too! I think New Year's is the biggest family event of the year, and it's nice that so many of the traditions are still followed.

    Janet - Thank you, a very Happy, healthy New Year to you! I was so happy to see some snow, but I still have my fingers crossed that Tokyo will get some this year. :)

    Les - The snow was quite impressive. It was funny just how excited I got. I'll always be a Canadian Prairie girl at heart. :)
    I wouldn't mind spring being here already either, I just wish the horrible hot, and humid summer didn't have to come after it.

    Kelly - I seem to be a LOT late in everything lately! Thanks, I hope this is a great year for you!

  12. Looks and sounds fascinating. Colorful food and customs.

  13. Book Dilettante - There are lots of interesting customs and rituals associated with New Year's. It's one of the most important holidays in Japan.


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