Celebrations mark start of the new year in Japan

Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu (Happy New Year!)! The focus that is on Christmas in Canada is on New Years in Japan.

Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu (Happy New Year!)! Last month I talked about the differences between Japanese Christmas and New Years and compared them to the western way. It is quite different in many ways – the focus that is on Christmas in Canada is on New Years in Japan.

New Year’s Eve is by far the most important time of the year in Japan, and people usually spend it with their families – drinking sake, eating soba (popular soup with noodles made of buckwheat; the length of the noodles represents long life) and watching a popular TV show together.

New Year’s Day is spent visiting local temples. People go and donate money via saisembako (a wooden box placed at the entrance of the altar). The money donated is traditionally a five-yen coin (about five cents) because it is gold in colour. However, any coin is accepted. After you throw the coin in, you clap your hands, bow, and make a wish. Afterwards, people can go to another wooden box, and pay 100-yen for a omikuji (fortune.)

After visiting shrines, people will spend the rest of the day inside with family drinking sake and eating osechi, a box fill with different foods; all have different meanings.

I did most of this on New Year’s Day. At the entrance of the Obihiro Shrine they sold food from stalls. While most of it was meat, I was still able to find a corn on the cob cooked on a grill.

At the entrance to every shrine, there is a temizuya (a water cleansing place for washing your hand and mouth.) Usually this is quite refreshing, but this time of the year it’s covered in ice, and even though there’s steam rising from it, it is quite cold.

I entered the shrine, walking under the Torii Gate (the archway in the entrance of shrines,) donated money, and made a wish. I then bought a fortune, and ended up with the best one people can get! Hopefully, this will be a great year.

Japanese Proverb — ichinen no kei wa gantan ni ari (the sum of the year is on New Year’s Day).

Anna Marshall is in Summerland’s sister city of Toyokoro, Japan as the assistant English teacher.