A general sentiment of self-restraint, bukkadaka (物価高, the high cost of living) and enyasu (円安, the weak yen) culminated in an Oshōgatsuyasumi (お正月休み, New Year’s holiday) where more people stayed put and fewer traveled to exotic overseas destinations.
According to Internet research company Do House Inc., a whopping 41.8 percent of 995 survey participants chose not to budge from their homes during the holidays, followed by 24 percent that said they were spending the New Year’s holidays at their jikka (parents’ house). Less than two percent said they were going on a kaigairyokō (海外旅行, overseas trip), while nearly seven percent claimed they would be working through the holiday week. Chinamini (ちなみに, by the way or as an example), many ministry buildings in Tokyo’s Kasumigaseki district had their lights on during Ōmisoka (大晦日, New Year’s Eve) and Gantan (元旦, New Year’s Day). On New Year’s Eve, I looked at the windows of the Gaimushō (外務省, Foreign Ministry) and counted no less than four floors where people inside were burning the midnight oil. It sure as hell didn’t look like an office party.
Fifteen years into this millennium and the Japanese are still bad at holidays — a time supposedly meant for fun and relaxation. They’re more likely to abide by the rules of tradition, family and work rather than catering to their own pleasures — a sobering fact for people like myself who hate the traditional Oshōgatsu with every fiber of their being and have made it a rule to run as far away from it as possible. Personally, Oshōgatsu inevitably means long hours of toil and labor in my grandmother’s freezing kitchen serving up dish after dish of osechi-ryōri (お節料理, traditional New Year’s food); opening endless bottles of beer; warming up countless tokkuri (徳利, bottles) of sake; and hours of cleaning up afterwards. I’m still convinced the Japanese Oshōgatsu was the invention of a perverted and sadistic warlord but let’s not get too Grinchy about it. Oshōgatsu is a great time for many Japanese, but especially the men. If you happen to be a Japanese musuko (息子, son) — even an old one — you get to spend this holiday eating goodies and drinking yourself into oblivion in front of the TV, while your mother and other womenfolk work in the kitchen.
For those under 25 and living with their parents, the recent Oshōgatsu was a pretty introverted affair, by many accounts.
My 18-year-old niece spent the night of Dec. 31 watching NHK’s annual New Year’s music program, Kōhaku Uta Gassen (紅白歌合戦, literally, “Red and White Song Contest”), with the rest of the family while writing out nengajō (年賀状, New Year’s greeting cards) to send to her friends, with her feet stuck in the kotatsu (炬燵, a heated table covered with a blanket), as she wore old pajamas and woolly socks.
I jokingly asked her, “Sorede iino? (それでいいの, Are you OK with that?),” to which she coolly replied “Zenzen daijōbu (全然大丈夫, I’m totally fine).” She said hankering for a good time during the holidays was not only futile, it was “kakkowarui (かっこ悪い, uncool)” and probably bad for the environment.
“Watashitachi no sedai wa gatsugatsu shinai (私たちの世代はガツガツしない, Our generation is not greedy),” she informed me, before proceeding to peel a mandarin orange. By Jan. 2, she was back to pulling shifts at the local Sebun (セブン, a nickname for Seven-Eleven) and studying for school exams. My reply? “Ā sōdesuka, naruhodo ne (ああそうですか, なるほどね, Oh I see, I got it).”
My niece is not alone — for the most part, the young Japanese of today are not into social adventures and all-night partying. That’s probably a good thing, because stoicism is the way to go in 2015.
The official kotoshino kanji (今年の漢字, kanji of the year) is 節 (setsu), a character which means clause, season, occasion, or restraint, refraining and saving. Setsuyaku (節約) means to curb expenses and put money aside for a rainy day. Setsudo wo motsu (節度をもつ) is to practice self-discipline. Fushime (節目) marks a point in time, and this year is the 20th anniversary of the Great Hanshin Earthquake, and the 70th anniversary of the Japanese surrender in World War II.
No wonder the merriment level seemed a little tepid between Christmas and New Year’s. A lot of businesses were hit by the lack of customers, especially luxury brands over Christmas. In Tokyo’s high-fashion district, Aoyama, the turnout of customers showed a 10 percent drop from last year — though the unofficial whisper is that the figure is more like 15 percent. And no one was spending much either. Tokyo couples were once renowned for queuing up to dine at high-end restaurants in and around Aoyama, shopping for gifts at luxury brand flagship stores and reserving hotel rooms in Shinjuku. “Anokoro wa yokatta (あの頃は良かった, those were the good days),” observed my friend Chiaki, who in 1998 squeezed four dates into a single Christmas Eve and went home two days later, loaded down with gifts and a heel missing from one of her Chanel shoes. Will we ever see those good times come around again? With Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the helm, it’s hard to tell.
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