Japanese Calendar Holidays & Festivals

New Year's Day  (ganjitsu)  National Holiday


JANUARY 1st; New Year's Day; Ganjitsu; Natl.Holiday

(By Paul Abramson ©1997 - Originally published: Tokyo Today Magazine, Jan.93)

In Japan the celebration of the New Year is both a time of renewal and a family occasion. People return to their family homes across Japan for a week away from the pressures of the big city. (By the way, there are actually two times each year when Tokyo gets to feeling like a "lonely place" with nobody around. The other occasion is during the Obon holiday in August.)

Families gather, hundreds of New Year's cards (nengajyo) must be mailed to friends and business contacts to renew relations, and it's the special time of year for eating certain foods - in particular mochi. Perhaps during the past few weeks you've seen people on TV with huge mallets pounding rice. They're making mochi, i.e. pounded rice dough.

The holiday actually lasts about a week, with most companies closing down. Front doors and car fronts are decorated with twisted straw and folded strips of white paper in Shinto inspired tradition. It is also important to visit employees, teachers and close relatives during this time. And the aforementioned New Years cards will be bundled and specially delivered by postal carriers on January 1. In some ways New Years and Christmas are opposites in Japan - compared to Western countries, as the Japanese treat Christmas like a party occasion with friends, while New Years is for family, etc.

Other January festivals/events include:

January 6 Meiji Shrine - Dezuiri (Ring Entering Ritual). Sumo wrestlers will come to pay homage and perform a 20 minute ritual dressed in their formal embroidered garments.

January 8 Torigoe Shrine, Dondo Yaki (burning of discarded New Year's decorations). Citizens can bring their decorations and stand close by to feel toasty warm for a little while.

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