I was never one who got involved in all the hype surrounding the New-Year celebrations. To me it is just another day - being a shift-worker, where I have worked on the 1st January more that the ones where I haven't - and I couldn't see what all the fuss was about. That was until I experienced my first Shogatsu or Oshogatsu in 2004.
The Japanese have been celebrating the New-Year for many thousands-of-years, but it wasn't until 1873, five-years after the Meiji Restoration, that they adopted the Gregorian Calendar, and the 1st January became the official and cultural New-Year. Prior to then, the occasion was timed according to the Chinese Lunar Calendar.
Preparations for the New-Year begin as early as November, with the making, selection and ordering of the Nengajo, or New-Year Postcards.
It is about mid-December, and time to get those Nengajo into the post so they arrive on the 1st, making sure you haven't included a card to someone who is in mourning. You would have received a "Mochyuu Hagaki", or "Mourning Postcard", informing friends and relatives not to send a Nengajo out of respect for the deceased. Also about this time people are ordering, purchasing and preparing the contents of their Osechi-Ryori. Osechi come in
It is now New-Years Eve, or Omisoka, the second-most important day in Japanese Tradition, and it's about to get very-busy. First thing on the agenda is the creation of your Osechi-Ryori (that's if your'e making your own) followed by "Osoji", or Spring-Cleaning. This practice isn't just confined to the home. Schools and Businesses also use the day to clean-up so, upon returning after the New-Year Holidays, they can begin the new year in a fresh-and-clean state. At midnight, Buddhist Temples around Japan will begin ringing their bells a total of 108-times to symbolize the 108 Human Sins in Buddhist belief, and to get-rid of the 108 worldly desires regarding sense and feeling in every Japanese citizen.
It is now the 1st January, a new year has arrived and time to introduce you to Hatsumode, Hatsuhinode, the "First" of the year. I will begin with "Hatsumode", or the first trip to a Shrine or Temple. Many people will time their "first" visit at around midnight. Braving the winter cold, millions will stand in line waiting for the signal informing the new year has arrived, before moving-on to pay their respects. For the three days, during Hatsumode, the public transport system will be operating 24-hours ferrying devotees to the many shrines in their area. Fushime-Inari Shrine in Kyoto, recorded some 2.8-million visitors during that 3-day period back in 2008.
|Yasaka-jinja Shrine Gate.|
It wouldn't be until 2006 before I celebrated Hatsumode again. On this occasion it was be a very-solemn moment. In early 2005 Otaasan (Father) died, and this was our first Hatsumode without him. He was a man that I loved and respected very-deeply. And, as a result, the New-Year celebration took-on a new meaning for me. I came to appreciate the occasion and, from that day onward, I take the opportunity to remember those who cannot be with us, think-back over the past year and say thank-you to all those in my life, and think of the year ahead. On this occasion we chose to visit Iwashimizu Hachiman-gu Shrine in Yawate City. We arrived at the complex just on midnight and, already by then, there were thousands of people queuing-up to pray.
|Iwashimizu Hachiman-gu Shrine|
Hatsuhinode is another "first" that the Japanese like to participate in - the First Sunrise of the Year - and they will go to any extreme to do that. Some will drive to the coast or climb a mountain and some will sit at home and watch it live on television. On the mornings of the new decade and the new millennium, a Japanese television company broadcast live from Kahuitara Point (Map) on Pitt Island. Why. Because it is the first populated location on Earth to observe the new sunrise. The popularity of another "first" doesn't become evident until about October when statistics from the maternity wards are made public.
This post has, I hope, given you a brief outline of how the Japanese celebrate the New-Year. When I say "brief", there are many more activities that are celebrated over this period which I haven't included. The activities covered are the more-important ones. As you will have noticed, it's a hectic time but, when it is all over-and-done-with, most will hit the motorways, the train-stations, the airports, whatever, for a well deserved holiday. But that's another post.
Oops, I nearly forgot. May I take this opportunity to wish you all a great New-Year, and all the very best for 2012.