12 Essential Japanese New Year’s Family Traditions

Nengajo

Another year has flown by, and if you live in Japan, you are most likely to be faced with the two largest annual events overlapping each other — Christmas and New Year — which for the average Japanese family are celebrated in an entirely different way. Below is the step-by-step process of how and why the Japanese celebrate the ending of a year and the beginning of a new one.

Nenmatsu-nenshi, Toshikoshi and Shinnen

What term refers to what? We get you. It can get confusing. So before we jump into the actual traditions, let’s first define the lingo. Nenmatsu-nenshi (年末年始) literally translates into “year-end, year beginning” and describes that time of year when we are busy and stressed, but looking forward to spending time with our loved ones. In terms of dates, it actually covers the very last days of the current year and the first days of the new one. Toshikoshi (年越し), literally “passing the year,” refers to the events and customs that take place at the end of year, while shinnen (新年) simply means “new year” and refers to all festivities taking place before heading back to work on Jan. 4. The official nenmatsu-nenshi break in Japan for most people is between Dec. 29 and Jan. 3. Yes, that’s the most blessed time in the year!

Nenmatsu-nenshi and toshikoshi traditions

Below are some of the most unique and traditionally celebrated New Year’s events in Japan. Whether in Akita or Shimane prefectures, celebrating the holidays here will make you go through at least half of these traditions in one way or another.

1. Nengajo (年賀状)

Starting as early as the beginning of December, Japanese people get their New Year seasonal …continue reading