Japanese New Year

January 14, 2008 at 8:50 am

At the stroke of midnight into the new year everyone across Japan turns to each other and says…

あけましておめでとうございます。(Happy New Year!)
Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu.

Followed by…

Kotoshimo yoroshiku onegaishimasu.

That’s a little harder to translate but it’s akin to “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” – a kind of camaraderie you verbalize with people when you first meet, and again at the start of the new year. It’s not as warm as a big hug and kiss, but these two phrases carry a lot of weight on the esprit de corp scale.

I said these phrases to my grandma on January 1 as she handed me a plate of beans, another Japanese New Year tradition. The sweet, black legumes are regarded as a force of good (not evil) and you’re supposed to eat one for every year you’ve been alive. Pink and white fishcakes and soft-boiled vegetables are other fortuitous items. Who knows what’ll happen if you don’t eat them? I sure don’t, but I’m not willing to find out.


And an even better tradition than eating is receiving money envelopes from elders, which can contain anywhere from a quarter to a couple hundred dollars. I look forward to getting them but as I get older I realize I should eventually switch from receiving them to giving them. Eventually…

It’s still cold outside so I hope everyone bundles up and sips hot chocolate in front of a crackling fire. Have a tangerine while you’re at it. That’s a Japanese tradition as well.


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Entry filed under: Japanese Culture, Japanese Foods. Tags: , , .

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