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Getting ready for New Year's Day (Oshogatsu, おしょうがつ, or お正月) in Japan


Japan Living Guide


If you happened to spend Shogatsu (New Year's Day) of 2011 in Japan, why don't you get ready for New Year's cerebration.

There are a couple ways you can do without spending too much money. Alll you need is Kadomatsu (かどまつ or 門松),  Oranges and Kagami Mochi (かがみもち or 鏡餅) and a Shimenawa (しめなわ, or 注連縄).

You can taste the tradition under 2,000 yen!

NOTE: I'm writing a very basic common sense of Japanese culture based on Wikipedia, other news sources and the ritual of Yokkaichi, Mie, Japan. However, the ritual and roots may be varied depends on the region you are in.


Kadomatsu (かどまつ or 門松)


Kadomatsu (かどまつ, or 門松) [ Wikipedia ] is the decoration for the house entrance made of bombo or pine trees. It means "the gate of pine tree" (Although some parts of Japan don't use pine trees).

On every New Year's Day, Japanese Shinto (religion) thinks that Toshigami (The god of New Year, としがみ, or 年神) [ Wikipedia ] is visiting at every house.

Toshigami is the god of grain or rice. So if Toshigami visits your house on New Year's Day, you will have the good luck for successful harvesting.

Kadomatsu is the object that welcomes Toshigami. The bigger and more geouges Kadomatsu, you have better chance.

Usually people start setting up Kadomatsu around December 20th. But because Christmas cerebration became popular in Japan, most Japanese people set it up after Chritmas these days.

However, DO NOT set up Kadomatsu on or after December 29th. You will be considered "being too late."

You must keepe it until Toshigami God leaves your house. You take it off on January 7th with Kagami-mochi or January 15th depends on the region you live.

Japanese used to set up a big Kadomatsu in front of the house. But more people start living in the apartments, so you can now buy a miniture version of Kadomatsu at the local supermarket.

Miniture kawaii Kadomatsu should cost around 1,000 yen or less. Just choose one according to the spcae and the budget.

If you have Japanese supermarket in your neighboehood outside Japan, they may sell it there.



Kagami-mochi (かがみもち or 鏡餅)


Kagami-mochi (かがみもち or 鏡餅) [ Wikipedia ] is the thin circular rice cakes (mochi), usually comes with a small mochi on a larger one.

"Kagami" means a mirror. In the ancient Japan, mirror was used to communicate with God. Japanese resemble the shape of mochi to look like a mirror.

Kagami-mochi is the offerings to the Toshigami god.

You want to place it at the living room (or similar place) on December 28th. Like Kadomatsu, don't set it up on or after December 29.

Some pople put an orange onto the Kagami-mochi and/or dried Japanese persimmon (かき or 柿).

January 11th is Kagami-biraki (かがみびらき or 鏡開き) which mean "Opening Kagami-mochi". (The date may be varied according to the region.) You take your kagami-mochi off the stage, and put it onto Zenzai (ぜんざい or 善哉) or Oshiruko (おしるこ or お汁粉) [ Wikipedia ].

For a couple hundreds yen, You can find the vacuated and packed Kagami-mochi that won't crcked or go bad easily.



Shimenawa (しめなわ or 注連縄)


Shimenawa (しめなわ or 注連縄) means "enclosing rope". [ Wikipedia ]

Shimenawa is made of rice straw rope. Japanese farmers usually save the last season of rice straw. My grandfather used to make the Shimenawa.

It is the spiritual barrior that prevent from bad luck or bad thing coming into the house, shrine, holy places or objects.

You want to set it up by December 28th, NOT on 29th and 31st.

Usually Japanese take the Shimenawa off on January 7th or 15th. Many Japanese shrines keeps the big Shimenawa throughout the year.

Recently, Japanese started placing Shimenawa in front of any kind of transports to pray for safety.

If you go to the supermarket, you can find various kinds of Shimenawa. The Shimenawa (the top photo) are for smaller entrance, such as the apartment.

The following is very small Shimenawa for traffic safety. You place it in front of your car, motorcycle or bicycle.


Since there is a couple kinds of Shimenawa, you may want to use the following Japanese to ask your store people.


Quick Japanese: Choosing the right kind of Shimenawa

Here are a couple sentences that you may be able to use to ask store staff to choose the right Shimenawa.

If you are having the diffulty memorizing the Japanese, just print this out, and show it to the staff.


Q1: I want to buy a Shimernawa for my house entrance

Q1: いえの げんかんよう の しめなわ を かいたい です?

Q1: 家の玄関用のしめなわを買いたいです?


Q2: Which Shimenawa is for the apartment entrance?

Q2: アパートの げんかんに いちばん いい しめなわ は どれですか?

Q2: アパートの限界に一番いいしめ縄はどれですか?


Q3: I want to buy Shimenawa for my car.

Q3: くるまようの しめなわ を かいたい です

Q3: 車用の しめ縄を買いたいです


Q4: I want to buy Shimenawa for my bicycle or motorcycle

Q4: じてんしゃ か バイク ようの しめなわ って どれですか?

Q4: 自転車かバイク用のしめ縄ってどれですか?



Buy animal symbol (Oriental Zodiac, えと, or 干支) of the year

Japanese imported the Chineses astrogical calendar system. They assign 12 animals.

2011 is the year of Rabbit (Usagi, うさぎ or 兎). 2012 is Dragon.

Buy an object (accessaries or cell phone straps) of the animal as a good luck charm.



Now, you are ready to cerebrate Japanese style New Year - Oshogatsu (おしょうがつ)



Japanese greeting for New Year's Day

Now you are physically ready for New Yer's Day. Next, memorize these Japanese to surprise your Japanese friends.


Before the New Year's Day

Please be good for the up-coming year.

らいねん も よろしく おねがい します
Rainen mo Yoroshiku Onegai Shimasu

Rainen = next year
Yoroshiku = be good
Onegai = please
Shimasu = polite ending

When New Year's Day comes

A Happy New Year!

あけまして おめでとうございます
Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu

Akemashite = New year opened
Omedetou = Congratulation
Gozaimasu = polite ending


Now you're ready

Have a Happy New Year of 2011.


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Katz Ueno
As the Editor-in-chief & Producer of YokosoNews, Katz wants to show Japan to the rest of the world. Read more »