New Years

by Kensatsukan Gaijin

Prior to the Meiji period, the date of the Japanese New Year was based on the Chinese lunar calendar. However, in 1873, five years after the Meiji Restoration, Japan adopted the Gregorian calendar and the first day of January became the official and cultural New Year's Day.  Some Japanese people eat a special selection of dishes during the New Year celebration called osechi-ryōri (御節料理 or お節料理). This consists of boiledseaweed (昆布 konbu), fish cakes (蒲鉾 kamaboko), mashed sweet potato with chestnut (栗きんとん kurikinton), simmered burdock root (金平牛蒡 kinpira gobō), and sweetened black soybeans (黒豆 kuromame). To let the overworked stomach rest, seven-herb rice soup (七草粥 nanakusa-gayu) is prepared on the seventh day of January, a day known as jinjitsu (人日).  Another custom is creating rice cakes (餅 mochi). Boiled sticky rice (餅米 mochigome) is put into a wooden shallow bucket-like container and patted with water by one person while another person hits it with a large wooden mallet. 

Because of mochi's extremely sticky texture, there is usually a small number of choking deaths around New Year in Japan, particularly amongst the elderly. The death toll is reported in newspapers in the days after New Year.

Many people gather with their families on New Year's Eve to watch the Red and White Song Festival ( 紅白歌合戦, Kohaku uta gassen, ) broadcast by the national television station, NHK. The Song Festival features singers whose songs enjoyed the most popularity during the past year and is almost a New Year's institution. At midnight, the Buddhist temples toll out the requisite 108 peals (除夜の鐘 joyanokane) on their bells to symbolize the 108 human sins and summoning in the New Year. T.V. stations broadcast the centers of activity at the various major shrines around the country and show the ringing of the massive temple bells at famous temples.