Japanese New Year
Ringing in the New Year is an important holiday activity and exciting event for the Japanese. In Japan the New Year celebration is called “nenga.” The Japanese observe nenga by eating osechi ryouri (New Year’s dishes), going to hatsumoude (first shrine visit), and decorating houses with ornaments like kadomatsu (pine tree decoration), shimenawa (a rope made with rice straw), and kagamimochi (round rice cakes to offer to the gods).
Reading New Year’s postcards, called nengajo, It is customary to send New Year’s postcards to friends, relatives, co-workers, and business clients which is very similar to the Western custom of sending Christmas cards. People in Japan consider it extremely important that nengajo are delivered EXACTLY on January 1st. This makes for the busiest day of the year for Japan Post because they are responsible to meet everybody’s needs to get their nengajo delivered on time. E-cards are becoming increasingly popular, Japanese people still keep the custom of sending New Year’s greetings by the postal service.
Nengajo usually have an illustrated New Year’s message with graphics symbolizing the New Year which may include a sunrise, a plum tree or one of the 12 eto animals (mouse, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig). A specific animal represents each year. The eto for 2014 is the horse (uma).
Among many of the New Year’s activities, “ostoshidama” is the most fun one for children. Otoshidama was originally a gift to celebrate the New Year, but the word mainly refers to money given to children by older people during the holiday. Otoshidama are handed out in small envelopes called “pochibukuro.”