Japanese New Year Traditions (Part 1)

New Year postcard with tiger

While Christmas is not the big of deal, in the religious sense, in Japan holiday lights aka “illuminations” are a thing to behold. I have a separate post about that. What is a big deal here is the New Year with Japanese locals have MANY traditions to ring in the New Year.

With 2022 being the year of the Tiger you may have started to see post cards and in stores and post offices. These are new year cards called Nengajo that are a tradition all over Japan. They will start to appear on the shelves around late October.

2022 New Year’s Card

In addition to being a New Year tradition there are rules that must be followed

  • Cards can be delivered to the post office all through December, but will be held until the 25th
  • Cards will be mass delivered starting on the 26th
  • It is considered rude if cards show up after the 7th of January
  • Most cards will be delivered on the 1st day of the New Year
  • If a person has had a loss in the family in the previous year, they should not be sent a card.
  • You can read more here

In addition to New Year’s Eve cards another tradition is the placing of kadomatsu and shimekazari. I actually had the opportunity this year to make my own and it was fun and exciting!!

The set up

I had the opportunity to go to a local farm and participate with other spouses from OSAY. We got to hear about the traditions, how the wreaths were made, their purpose and when to display them. We also got to make kadomatsu that I’ll get to display in front of my house after Christmas.

Finished product

Kadomatsu are traditionally placed outside of ones house after the 25th or 26th of December, but never on the 29th or the 31st of December. The reason for this is because those numbers, translated in Japanese, are seen as unlucky.

The purpose of the wreaths is to attract and welcome the gods of good fortune for the New Year, while simultaneously driving away the evil spirits. Made up of a string of rice straw they can be found in different designs around the country.

The kadomatsu is made up three varying lengths of bamboo shoots, pine and plum branches. The bamboo is to symbolize prosperity, the pine symbolizes longevity and the plum symbolizes constancy. Pre arrival of Christianity from the West, kadomatsu were put out as early as 10 December, but with the inclusion of Christmas and Santa there was a delay in the placement “due to a fear of a fight between the gods”.

After the new year shimekari and kadomatsu are burned in local bonfires, generally held in the community or at local shrines. Starting around the 9th of January people from all over will bring their wreaths and kadomatsu to be burned hoping for good tidings in the New Year.

Come back in 2022 to hear all about the bonfire 🔥

Japanese New Year Traditions (Part 2)

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