National

Japanese New Year's customs

Staff Report

Shogatsu, the term for the New Year’s holidays in Japanese, is a time when people take the first three days of the New Year off to relax with their families and engage in traditional activities to remind themselves of their heritage.

Below are some of the New Year’s traditions in Japan.

Otoshidama

On New Year’s Day or in early January, it is a Japanese custom for adults to give their children or young relatives otoshidama, or gift money. It is handed out in small decorated paper envelopes called pochibukuro.

The amount ranges from ¥1,000 to dozens of thousands of yen. There is no guidance as to what age is too old to receive otoshidama, but generally, those above the age of 20 are considered adults and thus too old for such gifts.

The origin of otoshidama is unclear, but one of the theories is that it stems from a Shinto event in which kannushi, or Shinto priests, give kagami mochi, two round rice patties with the smaller stacked on the larger, to shrine visitors. Over time, people started using money instead of kagami mochi.

Kagami mochi

Kagami mochi, which literally means “mirror rice cake,” is a traditional decoration placed in various locations throughout homes from around the end of the year to, usually, the day of kagami biraki (opening kagami mochi), typically on Jan. 11.

It is two round pieces of mochi and a daidai, a Japanese orange with a leaf attached on top. Kagami mochi can also be adorned with dried kelp, noshi (decorative Japanese paper) and other decorations.

The name kagami is said to have originated from its resemblance to an old-fashioned type of round copper mirror.

Its round shape is said to represent the human heart and thus the human spirit, according to the Japan Kagami Mochi Association. The two round mochi represent the moon and the sun and that is considered double fortune and therefore good luck.

Kagami mochi, made of rice harvested in the fall of the previous year, is also thought to contain the pure spirit of rice and thus be possessed with Toshigami, a deity that is said to visit at New Year’s to ensure a good harvest.

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