SHINTOISM | Ōmisoka, Shōgatsu and Hatsumōde

31 December to 01 January

Shōgatsu is the Japanese New Year’s Day. Although it was not established as a Public Holiday until 1948, the day had long been celebrated as a day of imperial worship known as Shihō Hai. On Ōmisoka (New Year’s Eve) preparations for the new year begin. Homes, schools and businesses are cleaned, debts are paid, and osechi-ryōri (special New Year food presented in decorative, lacquered, multi-layered, bento boxes) is prepared for the traditional Shōgatsu meal. Special foods eaten during Shōgatsu are o-toso (sweet sake flavoured with cassia bark, herbs and spices) and mochi (sticky rice cakes).

In the evening of Ōmisoka, families come together to watch a special New Year variety show on television, staying up until midnight to enjoy a traditional meal of toshikoshi soba (a special New Year dish of soba (buckwheat) noodles). At Yasaka Jinja (Yasaka shrine) in Kyoto, a sacred fire is kindled and visitors are encouraged to take home some of the embers as it is believed that good fortune will be granted to those who use them to cook their first meal of the new year. Shimekazari (sacred ropes braided of race straw and adorned with good luck charms) are hung above the doors of many Japanese homes and businesses to ward off evil spirits and to invite the kami to enter.

Early on the morning of Shōgatsu, it is traditional for people to make their first prayer visit of the year to a Shinto shrine. This practice is known as Hatsumōde. It is very important in Japanese culture and many women dress up in their finest kimonos. During Hatsumōde, Japanese people express gratitude to Kami (spirits) for the divine protection they received in the past year and ask for their continual protection in the coming year.

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