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Happy New Year Japan Style

Today, all about New Year’s in Japan!

Happy New Year!! Happy 2014!!

Over the coming days I’ll post about some New Years traditions in Japan. Today I want to cover what are probably the two most common events.

First: Nengajō, New Year’s postcards. These are sent by everyone to everyone — it’s not uncommon to send dozens, and receive at least as many back. I have seen families with giant stacks of cards on their kitchen table. Many people will send nengajō to friends, family, co-workers, business acquaintances, random people they meet on the street. Hmmm… Well maybe not that last one, but it does seem like a lot of people want to try to find reason to send as many as possible — mainly young people; older folks have the opposite view and start grumbling about the need to trim their sending list as they struggle to sign nearly a hundred postcards.

The beginning of January is the busiest time for the post office; they take on an army of part-time students just for this time period, and this army helps make sure all the cards (if they are sent by about a week before the end of the year) are delivered early on January 1st.

Second: Hatsumōde, the first visit to shrine or temple for prayor. Most people try to do this on the 1st, by the 3rd at the latest. Many girls will wear kimono if the weather is nice. It is usually super crowded, but people go just the same. In addition to praying, people will usually buy a couple of good luck items, including omamori, a charm, omikuji, a fortune, and hamaya, an arrow with no tip which supposely wards off evil.

There are a while host of other firsts too, the two most common being hatsuhi, the first sunrise of the year, which people sometimes make sure to wake up early and see, and hatsuyume, the first dream of the year, which is actually on the night of the 1st and not the night of the 31st — traditionally no one got any sleep on the night of the 31st, which is why hatsuyume is the night of the 1st. It is considered to be particularly good luck to dream of Mount Fuji, a hawk, and an eggplant. Why? Well, Mt Fuji is Japan’s highest mountain, the hawk is a clever and strong bird, and the Japanese word for eggplant—nasu—sounds like the word for achieving something great. Also, Tokugawa Ieyasu loved all three (supposely).

I’m hoping to have a good hatsuyume tonight!

Daily Photo: The Eyeless

Daruma waiting patiently to be given eyes in return for granting a wish. These guys are another thing people buy at hatsumōde. You are suppose to make a wish and fill in one eye. If the wish comes true, you fill in the other eye.

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