It is very cold in Japan during the winter. Even so, the period around New Year’s Day is my favourite time of the year to go home, eat and take part in festive activities with family and friends.
The Japanese new year festival starts on New Year’s Eve.
TOSHIKOSHI SOBA 年越し蕎麦 / eat soba noodle
It is very common to eat buckwheat noodles called Toshikoshi soba on New Year’s Eve.
Soba represent health, longevity and family fortunes. It is also said that by eating soba, you will strike off bad luck from the previous year because soba noodles are easier to break than other types of noodles.
JOYA NO KANE 除夜の鐘 / bell ringing
Buddhist temples all over Japan ring their bells a total of 108 times to symbolise the 108 human sins in Buddhist beliefs. The bell is usually rung a total of 107 times on the eve of the new year, and once more just as it hits New Year’s Day. The final strike symbolises forgetting about last year’s problems.
HATSUHINODE 初日の出 / first sunrise of the year
January 1st is the one day that people wake up early and experience Hatsuhinode (the first sunrise of the year). This is because the Japanese used to believe that Toshigami (a God of Shinto) appeared with the first sunrise of the year, bringing good luck.
OSECHI 御節料理 / new year's food
Osechi is traditional New Year’s dishes in which an assortment of mini-dishes are displayed in elegant, stackable lacquer boxes known as Jubako 重箱. Most of these dishes keep well, which traditionally gave the women of the house a break for the first a few days of January.
Each of the dishes has a special meaning, and are wish for prosperity and good health in the new year. Here are some examples. Kuromame 黒豆 (black beans) are meant to be a symbol of health, with the associated idea that the person will be able to work hard in the year to come. Kazunoko 数の子 (herring roe) represents that new year will bring many children; 'Kazu 数’ means ‘number’ in Japanese, and ‘ko 子’ means ‘children. Tazukuri 田作り (sardines boiled in soy sauce) is eaten in the hope that the coming year’s harvest will be plentiful. Historically, sardines were used to fertilise rice fields, and the word ‘Tazukuri’ means ‘rice field maker’ in Japanese.