Unlike in Europe and the U.S., where companies and schools start immediately after the New Year, in Japan, New Year's is a big, important annual event. In Japan, New Year’s day is called お正月/おしょうがつ/Oshogatsu. There are many events and customs to celebrate Oshogatsu.
Some people climb up the mountain before dawn to see the first sunrise of the year. The first sunrise is called 初日の出/はつひので/Hatsuhinode and it’s one of the good omens of the Oshogatsu.
Many people visit shrine and temples to greet the gods and make wishes for the coming year. This event is called 初詣/はつもうで/Hatsumoude. As you can see in both words, Kanji “初” is in many New year’s events.
Other than those two, there are other words with 初 such as 初湯/はつゆ/Hatsuyu/First bath in the New year, 初夢/はつゆめ/Hatsuyume/the first dream you have in the night of January 1st (some people say it’s the dream you have in the night of new year’s eve) and 書き初め/かきぞめ/Kakizome/Japanese traditional First Writing of the year.
Hatsuyume predicts the good and bad fortune of the year. There is a traditional expression, "One Fuji, two hawks, three eggplants," as the lucky items to dream about in the Hatsuyume. If you can see these in your first dream, it is said to be a good omen. It is said that if you put a picture of a treasure ship with seven gods of good fortune under your pillow on New Year's Day, you will have a good first dream. Kakizome is to practice writing with calligraphy brushes and ink for the first time in the year. We enjoy writing our favourite kanji characters, words, and letters. Some people write their goals for the new year. There are many kakizome contests held across the country during the winter break.
There are also customs that don’t have kanji 初 in it. The custom called お年玉/おとしだま/Otoshidama is looked forward by many children. Adults put the money in special envelopes called "pochi-bukuro" and give them to the children, and the money is called Otoshidama. Other than that, people in Japan send each other 年賀状/ねんがじょう/nengajo (New Year's cards) for the New Year. They are designed with lucky charms or one of the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac that correspond to the animal of the year. Postcards expressing New Year's greetings and gratitude for the past year, which are written in December and sent to be delivered in the New Year, are usually sent to friends and relatives as well as to colleagues and people who have helped them in their business.
Chinese zodiac of 2021 is the ox.
There are special foods for Oshogatsu as well. There is おせち料理/おせちりょうり/Osechi-ryori which is a specially prepared new year’s cuisine. This is to be eaten during the first three days of January. Most osechi-ryori are made to last for at least three days so that the women can take a break from cooking for three days. A variety of dishes are neatly arranged and placed in three to four-tiered stacked boxes. Each dish and ingredient in Osechi has its own meaning, such as health, good harvest, happiness, prosperity, and long life. For example, herring roe, called "数の子/かずのこ/Kazunoko," means "prosperity of offspring. 黒豆/くろまめ/Kuromame/Black soybeans mean "to be blistering" or good health. 海老/えび/Ebi/Shrimp means longevity because its curved shape looks like an old man. Also, red/pink and white dishes, like white and pink fish cakes, shows the colors of celebration.
お雑煮/おぞうに/Ozoni/ soup with rice cake is also eaten during the first three days of the new year. The seasoning and ingredients (meat, fish, and vegetables) vary from region to region and household to household. In general, Ozoni with rice cake cubes in a clear soup is eaten in eastern Japan, while Ozoni with round rice cake in miso soup is eaten in western Japan. These Japanese traditional dishes can be made from the ingredients sold in Japanese supermarkets.
In Japan, New Year is a more important holiday than Christmas, unlike Western countries. Oshogatsu in Japan is an event for a family and relatives much like Christmas in here. There are many unique Japanese traditions and customs for the New year and you can try some of them in the UK. If you are interested, please try them at home!