The year has flown by and it's almost New Year's Eve. In many countries including the UK, Christmas is more important and New Year's Eve and New Year's Day are not as important. But soon after Christmas, people in Japan start to prepare for the New year’s eve and New year events. Everyone has their own way of spending New Year's Eve. It used to be normal for families to spend New Year's Eve together and welcome in the New year in the past. But nowadays, many people spend it with their friends and loved ones, travelling within Japan or abroad, or attending countdown events or New Year's Eve live concerts at theme parks. On the other hand, there are also people who cherish in the unique Japanese way of New Year's Eve. This article will cover some of the major events in the New year’s eve.
First one is Bonenkai which means the end of year party. Many of the Japanese places organise bonenkai before the end-of-year holiday starts. Bonen means to forget the past year and is implying by having a party, let’s forget the worries of the past year. There are similar events in Eastern Asia countries but in other countries. Company-held bonenkais started to become popular after WWII when Japan was experiencing rapid economic growth. Bonenkai has become a hassle for many employees especially young people due to the fact that seniority is highly valued in Japanese society. Although attendance is not always mandatory, there is a peer pressure to attend the party after working full time. But recently, there is a movement to oppose such ideas as many of the companies become a performance-based system, and the number of bonenkai is decreasing.
Another thing is the major house cleaning. In the old days, there were hearths and kamados in the house, and the house was covered with soot. Therefore it was important to clean before the New year because the god of New year will visit the house. It was not just cleaning, but a sacred cleansing ritual to welcome the New Year's god. People nowadays are not believing in this but the major cleaning is left as a New year’s eve custom. Nowadays, we think of cleaning as something we do at the end of the year, but it was originally done on the 13th of December, so let's tackle it early. It is a good idea to do it as early as possible so that you don't have to rush at the end of the year and can have more time to spend.
年越し蕎麦/としこしそば/Toshi koshi soba
On New year’s eve, it is a tradition to eat Toshi koshi soba for the dinner. Toshi koshi soba means year crossing soba and people stay up until midnight to eat the soba. People eat soba because soba breaks down easily compared to other types of noodles and implies the meaning that it breaks down the disasters of this year. Soba noodle also symbolises longevity because they are thin and long, so eating soba would help people live longer. On New Year’s Eve, soba noodle shops are crowded with many people from morning till night. There are few Japanese restaurants that have soba on their menu so if you would like, you can try this toshi koshi soba custom. Also, there are some Japanese food markets that sell dried soba noodles so you can also try them at home.
除夜の鐘/じょやのかね/Joya no kane
At Buddhist temples in Japan, they ring the bells 108 times at the midnight of the New year’s eve. This is called joya no kane meaning bell on the New year’s eve. They ring the bell for 108 times because it is said that number 108 is corresponding to the number of human desires. Each sound of bell gets rid of one desire so all 108 bells would get rid of our 108 desires, and so we can start the New year in a fresh mind. Most of the bells are rung by the head priest of the temple, but there are many places that allow the general public to try ringing the bell. So if you have a chance to visit Japan for the New year’s eve (probably not this year), you could experience ringing bell on the New year’s eve.
Listening to the sound of the New Year's bell and eating toshi koshi soba. It is a time to reflect on the past year and to think about the new year. The unique Japanese way of spending New Year's Eve may be an important part of our culture to pass on to the next generation. Next week's article will be about the Japanese New Year, so please read on.