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新年おめでとう ございます January 14, 2008

Posted by Luca Marchetti in Holiday, Japan, Life.
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… that is “Happy New Year” (in Japanese of course 🙂 ).
Ok, someone could argue that wish “Happy New Year” on January 14th it isn’t really fair, but I’d like to tell you something about new year’s tradition in Japan.

In most Western countries, the biggest holiday is Xmas, but in Japan it is the New Year. Japanese have a lot of things to do to prepare for January 1st.

They clean the home and the office.
They place a kadomatsu (門松) or pine-tree decoration outside their homes and make special food called osechi-ryōri (御節料理 or お節料理), a variety of dishes which can be preserved for eating over the several days of holiday, and mochi (餅), rice cakes.
It is also traditionally a time to visit friends and business acquaitances.
Oh, they send nengajō (年賀状) greeting cards, too.

During the holidays, they often go back to their parents’ home.
Most Japanese start the new year by going to a nearby jinja (神社) shrine or otera temple. They pray for health and happiness in the coming year. This is called Hatsumōde (初詣).
Some of them wait for the first sunrising (Hatsuhinode (初日の出)).

Last year I was in Sendai. With two German friends I started 2007 waiting to ring the bell in Hachiman shrine. I cannot describe really the atmosphere. It was so beautiful and spiritual and silent. I was really impressed by composure and pride of Japanese celebrations. This aspect of Japanese life is one of the most interesting (for me of course 🙂 ) and I love it.

On January 14th, in Sendai there is the Dontosai Matsuri. During this festival people go to the shrine and they burn old year decorations. (Almost) naked merchants walk from their shops towards the shrine, carrying their shop lantern to receive a cup of Holy sake to get good luck for new year. It is usual to see also entire family walk on the streets to perform “hadaka mairi” (to pay homage naked).

So maybe I’m in late, but today is 14th and exactly one year ago I was present at this festival, with a dear friend. There was amazing hours, the waiting, the walking towards the shrine, the huge fire, the naked people, and luckily I was not alone, even if I was in my last days in Japan.
A friend of mine is now there, and I’m quite nostalgic thinking about such things. And I guess that is a good moment to wish you “Happy New Year”!

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