By Cezar Visan
December is known as a month of celebration. After the symbolic commemoration of Christmas, one of the most important Christian celebrations, New Year hastily approaches. In Japan, New Year’s Day represents the most important holiday, and many people are actively involved in it.
Yokohama is a symbolic place for celebration, and is an iconic image on international media under the “New Year in Japan” headline. Being there, I could see the large Ferris wheel transformed in a massive countdown clock minutes before the dawn of the New Year. After the strike of midnight, a fireworks show starts, and it is often broadcasted worldwide.
Some Japanese people go to shrines to celebrate Hatsumode (the first shrine visit of the New Year), and it is a great chance for tourists to experience the authentic Japanese traditions. At the shrine, people buy omikuji (oracles) that would predict their life in the new year in various aspects such as business and love. If the omikuji predicts bad luck, it is tied on a tree within the shrine area, in the hope that its predictions does not come true. Most people visit temples during the first 3 days of the New Year to pray for their well being; for this reason, each year, the Meiji Shrine in Tokyo attracts over three million visitors during the first week of January.
There is also a special meal that is served only during the New Year occasion. Osechi consists of various traditional dishes that are prepared at Japanese homes and packed together in beautiful lacquer boxes, called jubako. Interestingly enough, each dish represents a symbol of hope for the upcoming year. For example, black soybeans represent good health, herring roe stands for fertility, while the shrimps are a symbol of longevity and regeneration.
While there is a trend of westernization in the celebration of winter holidays in Japan, the local culture still exists. The large number of traditions during this time make the Japanese New Year a special and unique experience that must not be missed. For my first winter vacation in Japan, being immersed in the local culture has been one of the most interesting experiences I have lived.
Cezar Visan is a first-year PEAK student at the University of Tokyo.