Celebrate the New Year Japanese Style

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The arrival of each new year is a joyous time in Japan. Families across the country come together to celebrate what is arguably the year’s most important holiday. We highly recommend making a trip to Japan during this time. However, there are many features of the 正月Shougatsu, or New Year celebration, that you can recreate here in Arizona. We have outlined a few here:

Bounenkai

Bounenkai is Japan’s version of a New Year’s party with the goal of “forgetting” the past year. While other New Year parties and festivals in Japan are traditionally spent with family, Bounenkai parties are for friends and coworkers to celebrate together. As drinking is a key element of these parties, they serve as a time for coworkers to “let their guard down” and unwind.

In my experience while living in Japan, even my most reserved coworkers enjoyed coming out of their shells during Bounenkai celebrations. They sang songs, performed impromptu dances from national festivals, and even formed a human pyramid at one point. Once back at work, no one ever mentioned the parties again. I guess what happens at Bounenkai stays at Bounenkai!


It’s easy enough to host your own “forgetting the year” party here in Phoenix. Local Meetup groups and Japanese restaurants often host celebrations as well.

Omisoka

Omisoka is a traditional Japanese celebration that takes place on December 31 each year. Usually spent with family or close friends, Omisoka activities can include cleansing activities such as visiting public baths or tidying the house. Families also gather at parties and enjoy eating Toshikoshi Soba or “Passing the Year” noodles.

You can easily bring elements of Omisoka into your New Year’s Eve celebration. For example, Tempe’s Fujiya Market and other Japanese markets around town have Toshikoshi Soba available for purchase.

Hatsumode

Hatsumode refers to visiting a Shinto Shrine for the first time during the year. Traditionally families gather on December 31 for Omisoka and then go together to the shrine (or sometimes temple) at midnight. Others visit during the day on January 1.

Shrine visitors often enjoy amazake, a sweet rice drink, and purchase written fortunes called omikuji. If someone receives a bad fortune, he or she can tie the paper to a tree near the shrine to prevent it from coming true.


While we haven’t found a Japanese shrine in Phoenix, the Arizona Buddhist Temple is hosting a New Years Day service.  If hosting your own celebration, you can even purchase amazake on Amazon.

Mochi

While mochi is a popular Japanese food throughout the year, it is traditionally a New Year’s treat. Made from rice pounded into a paste, mochi can have many variations and flavors. You’ve most likely seen it at Japanese restaurants served as a dessert with ice cream. Not only is mochi eaten during the New Year in Japan, it is also used as a decoration with the intent of warding off house fires during the upcoming year.


You can purchase mochi at Japanese markets in Phoenix. There are also countless recipes for various types of mochi online.

Osechi Ryori

Osechi ryori refers to the traditional foods enjoyed in Japan on New Year’s Day. You can find osechi ryori at Fujiya Market in Tempe; it will look similar to a bento box. The various dishes each have a special meaning relating to the new year and are often varied and colorful. They are often eaten with special rounded chopsticks in order to symbolize sharing the meal with ancestral spirits.

No matter how you decide to celebrate, we wish you all the best during the New Year! Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu! 

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About Tara Brichetto

Tara is a Phoenix native who enjoys learning about the many cultural events Arizona has to offer. She is especially interested in Japanese culture after teaching in Japan through Phoenix Sister Cities. Tara currently works as an analyst and serves as a coordinator for students on CIEE's high school exchange program.

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