Shogatsu, or oshogatsu, is the Japanese New Year. Shogatsu is celebrated from the first through the third of January. As a national Japanese holiday, Shogatsu is a time to be with family, and most businesses close. For the Japanese, Shogatsu not only marks the beginning of a new year, but also brings the previous year and all its goings-on to a close. Therefore, projects and duties should be completed. A bonenkai party, or “year forgetting party,” is the celebratory marker of the departure from the previous year, and all its worries.
As is the case with most holidays, Shogatsu carries with it a number of characteristic customs. Homes and entryways are traditionally adorned with kadomatsu, decorations made from pine, bamboo, and plum branches.
Customary Shogatsu foods include toshikoshi soba, a long buckwheat noodle eaten on New Years Eve that symbolizes long life. It is also customary to eat Osechi-ryori, a collection of traditional foods served together in the small sections of jubako box. Each food served in the jubako box carries its own symbolic meaning. For example, black soybeans symbolize health, while herring roe symbolizes the prospect of many children. Mochi, or sticky rice cakes, are made in the last days of the closing year, and eaten during Shogatsu. Mochi may be topped with persimmon or orange, and are used as a decoration as well as a food.
In addition to the bonenkai party, Shogatsu activities may include watching popular music television shows or flying kites. Games such as Hanetsuki, or Japanese badminton, and the card game karuta are also common. More traditional Shogatsu activities include sending nengajo to family and friends. Nengajo are decorated cards marked with greetings and auspicious symbols.
Otoshidama, or pocket money, is traditionally handed out to children in colorfully designed envelopes known as otoshidama-bukuro. It is also customary to visit shrines or temples during Shogatsu. The Meiji Shrine in Tokyo, for example, attracts millions of visitors during the three-day celebration.
During Shogatsu there is special meaning assigned to the first time something is done since the end of the previous year. Particularly important is Hatsuhinode, or the first sunrise of the year. After celebrating New Year's Eve, many people drive to particular spot where the sunrise can be clearly seen. Hatsumode is also of particular importance, as this is the first trip to a temple or shrine. Other important events include hatsugama, the first tea ceremony of the year, and shigoto-hajime, the first day back to work after the Shogatsu holiday.