Japanese New Year

January 14, 2008 at 8:50 am Leave a comment

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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January 2008


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