Japanese New Years Traditions:

Shimenawa, the sacred braided straw rope used in a  shimekazari  decoration, holds deep meaning for the Japanese. When hung above the entryway of a site, it marks the border to pure space where the gods can descend, such as the entrance to a shrine precinct or a ritual site.

Shimenawa, the sacred braided straw rope used in a shimekazari decoration, holds deep meaning for the Japanese. When hung above the entryway of a site, it marks the border to pure space where the gods can descend, such as the entrance to a shrine precinct or a ritual site.

In Japan we don't celebrate Christmas as much as New Years.  The time of the year that companies are mandatorily closed so that everyone can spend time with their family which lasts from 1 week to 10 days. Here are some of our traditions:

Kagami mochi (鏡餅, "mirror rice cake"), is a traditional Japanese New Year decoration. It usually consists of two round mochi (rice cakes), the smaller placed atop the larger, and a daidai (a Japanese bitter orange) with an attached leaf on top. In addition, it may have a sheet of konbu and a skewer of dried persimmons under the mochi. It sits on a stand called a sanpō (三宝) over a sheet called a shihōbeni (四方紅), which is supposed to ward off fires from the house for the following years. Sheets of paper called gohei (御幣) folded into lightning shapes similar to those seen on sumo wrestler's belts are also attached.

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The kagami mochi first appeared in the Muromachi period (14th–16th century). The name kagami ("mirror") is said to have originated from its resemblance to an old-fashioned kind of round copper mirror, which also had a religious significance. The reason for it is not clear. Explanations include mochi being a food for sunny days, the spirit of the rice plant being found in the mochi, and the mochi being a food which gives strength.

The two mochi discs are variously said to symbolize the going and coming years, the human heart, "yin" and "yang", or the moon and the sun. The "daidai", whose name means "generations", is said to symbolize the continuation of a family from generation to generation. 

Traditionally the kagami mochi was placed in various locations throughout the house. Nowadays it is usually placed in a household Shinto altar, or kamidana. It has also been placed in the tokonoma, a small decorated alcove in the main room of the home.

Contemporary kagami mochi are often pre-moulded into the shape of stacked discs and sold in plastic packages in the supermarket. A mikan or a plastic imitation daidai is often substituted for the original daidai.

Variations in the shape of kagami mochi are also seen. In some regions, three layered kagami mochi are also used. The three layered kagami mochi are placed on the butsudan or on the kamidana. There is also a variant decoration called an okudokazari placed in the centre of the kitchen or by the window which has three layers of mochi. 

It is traditionally broken and eaten in a Shinto ritual called kagami biraki (mirror opening) on the second Saturday or Sunday of January. This is an important ritual in Japanese martial arts dojos. It was first adopted into Japanese martial arts when Kanō Jigorō, the founder of judo, adopted it in 1884, and since then the practice has spread to aikido, karate and jujutsu studios. 

After the New Years celebration the mocha is boiled in a soup with various vegetables and styles, depending on the region.  

The custom differs from area to area and it is also called misoka soba, tsugomori soba, kure soba, jyumyo soba, fuku soba, and unki soba. The tradition started around Edo period (1603-1867) and there are several theories believed that long soba noodles symbolize a long life.[2] The buckwheat plant can survive severe weather during growing period, soba represents strength and resiliency.

Toshikoshi soba (年越し蕎麦), year-crossing noodle, is Japanese traditional noodle bowl dish eaten on New Year's Eve. This custom lets go of hardship of the year. 


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The custom differs from area to area and it is also called misoka soba, tsugomori soba, kure soba, jyumyo soba, fuku soba, and unki soba. The tradition started around Edo period (1603-1867) and there are several theories believed that long soba noodles symbolize a long life. The buckwheat plant can survive severe weather during growing period, soba represents strength and resiliency.

It is a tradition to not break the noodle while you eat it for good luck for the new year. For Japanese people, we don't feel like it is a new year until we eat soba. 

The making is quite easy, you put the soba and cook it the same way you cook pasta. Just a few minutes and then add tsuyu sauce. You can use any topping that you like, for example nori seaweed, negi green onion, ginger, wasabi, etc. These noodles can be eaten cold with a dipping sauce or in a hot bowl. 

If they are eaten cold we use a dipping called tsuyu which is a mix of soy sauce, mirin, fish stock. We can also use grinded sesame with soy sauce for vegetarians and vegans. 

For hot soba we can use the same stock. For vegetarians, it’s possible to use “dashi” made with Kombu seaweed, not fish. 

Then we go to the temple to ring bell. For good luck you must be in the first 108 people to ring the bell to represent the 108 sins in Buddhism. During this time the monks light a bonfire where you burn things that are precious and you want to let go of but do not want to throw in the garbage. 

Then the monks open a sacred sake drink that everyone enjoys together.  

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During the next days we eat "Osechi" good luck food with food for health, work, family, ahppieness. In this way we appreciate our living family and ancestors and can say "Akemeshite Omedeto to put the last year behind and open ourselves to the new year.

These are some of our New Years Traditions.

These are some of our New Years Traditions.

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