Steeped in deep traditions, ringing in the new year is of the upmost importance in the land of the rising sun. It is considered one of the most auspicious days, one said to set the tone for the rest of the year to come. With rituals in abundance, the Japanese take great pains in readying for the celebrations.
Preparations begin with cleaning the house from top to bottom, quite literally allowing for a fresh start. Also cleaned are Shinto altars, known as Kamidana. These miniature household shrines serve as a place of prayer for the homeowner, where simple offerings can be placed: water, rice, fruit, etc. Traditional decorations, or Shimekazari are placed near entrances in an effort to keep away bad spirits. They are usually made up of auspicious symbols such as Dadai (Japanese bitter orange), pine branches and Shide (paper strips folded into zig-zags). For example, the pine branches symbolize longevity due to their everlasting green coloring.
Also a symbol of longevity are toshikoshi soba (buckwheat noodles), served chilled with a dipping sauce on New Year’s Eve.
Historically, fireworks (Hanabi) have been exclusive to summer celebrations in Japan. Hanabi light up the sky to ward off evil spirits during the warmer holidays: tradition since the mid-nineteenth century. More recently, many ski resorts on the northernmost island of Hokkaido have taken to firing off some sparkly pyrotechnics to ring in the New Year. With the masses of western tourists that take to the slopes over the holidays, areas such as Niseko typically put on an impressive Hanabi show on December 31st for it’s expectant guests.
Many Japanese will greet the first day of the year at sunrise, a tradition referred to as Hatsu-Hinode. Friends and family then spend a stress-free, joyful day enjoying each other’s company, starting off the year as they hope for it to continue.
To celebrate New Year’s Eve in Japan is to step into a world of fascinating customs. Both quiet and colorful, this day of new beginnings gives great insight into one of the most captivating cultures. Added bonus: skiers and riders can toast with bubbles and follow-up with a frolic in champagne powder.
Wishing you all a very happy and healthy New Year, ski nuts!
Winter is coming,