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New Year's Holidays in Japan

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In Japan "shogatsu (New Year's holidays)" is a time when everybody takes a few days off to celebrate the arrival of the new year. It is often called "oshogatsu" with the prefix "o" to make it sound polite. Many people who are away from home, return to spend time with their family. Just like Christmas in West, the Japanese are looking forward to "oshogatsu." Here is the song titled "Oshogatsu."

Mou ikutsu neru to oshogatsu
Oshogatsu ni wa tako agete
Koma o mawashite asobimashou
Hayaku koi koi oshogatsu

もういくつ寝るとお正月
お正月には凧あげて
こまをまわして遊びましょう
早く来い来いお正月

How many more nights to sleep until New Year's Day
In the New Year's holidays, let's fly a kite
Let's play with a spinning top
Come, come quickly, New Year's Day

To prepare for "oshogatsu," everybody gets busy doing a big year-end cleaning (oosouji), setting New Year's decorations (kadomatsu or shimekazari) and preparing New Year's dishes (osechi-ryori). On New Year's Eve (oomisoka), it is customary to eat "toshikoshi-soba" and wait up to hear the watch-night bell (joya no kane) rung at the temples. It starts ringing at just before midnight on New Year's Eve and continues into the early hours of New Year's Day, 108 times in all. According to Buddhism, a human being has 108 troublesome desires. The ringing of the bells is to expel these troublesome desires.

During New year's holidays, most people visit a shrine or a temple (hatsumoude) to pray for health and happiness. The famous shrines or temples get very crowded. Although kimono are not worn in daily life any more, many people wear them on "oshogatsu."

Flying kites (takoage), spinning tops (koma-mawashi) or playing Japanese battledore (hanetsuki) are traditional games for children, though it is now less popular. Children are given "otoshidama" from parents and relatives. In most cases, it is money placed in special little envelopes (otoshidama-bukuro).

"Kakizome (the first calligraphic writing)" is a traditional event held on January 2nd. People write auspicious words or phrases with a brush. Elementary schools and junior high schools have "kakizome" competitions annually.

"Hatsuyume" is the first dream of the New Year. It is said that good dreams are "Ichi-fuji, ni-taka, san-nasubi (Mt. Fuji at the first, hawk at the second, eggplant at the third)." It is believed that if you have these auspicious dreams, you will have a good year.

Click here to learn more about oshougatsu.

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