Translated by Takuya Erik Watanabe
Omisoka - New Year's Eve In Japan
Written by ニコ
December 31st (New Year's Eve) is called Omisoka in Japan. There are several customs for misoka that have been in existence since long ago. If you will be in Japan on New Year's Eve, how about experiencing some of them?
Omisoka - New Year's Eve
Omisoka is the Japanese word for New Year's Eve, or December 31st of every year.
In Japan, there are a few customs practiced on this day. Some of these customs can be enjoyed by travelers from overseas as well. Let's learn about omisoka in Japan and enjoy the end of the year even more!
The Many Japanese Words for "Year End"
There are many words and phrases that mean "the end of the year" in Japanese.
Some of the most basic are "nenmatsu" and "toshinokure". "Matsu" and "kure" are words for "the end of ~", so both phrases mean "the end of the year".
"Toshi-no-se" is also a quite popular word. This phrase is used to express the "busy season in December". People will say in mid-December that "the toshi-no-se is coming", or that "the toshi-no-se has come" in late December.
Likewise, "omisoka" also stands for the end of the year.
Omisoka Is a Day of Preparing for the New Year
The day after omisoka is January 1st, New Year's Day, which is called "shogatsu" in Japan. "Shogatsu" is a day for welcoming a deity called "Toshigami-sama", who is said to protect people's homes. December 31st is a day to prepare for welcoming this god.
For example, the house is cleaned of dust in a ritual called "susuharai", and "kadomatsu", a decoration using "pines" in which gods are said to dwell, are placed on both sides of the home doors. The kadomatsu is a sign for the gods so that they don't get lost when coming to our homes.
A "shimenawa", which is a rope used in Shinto rituals, is also placed above the front door in order to welcome the Toshigami-sama. "Kagamimochi" (sweet rice cakes) are offered to the Toshigami-sama on the kamidana (a household altar for enshrining a god). If you pass by a Japanese home around the New Year, you will be able to see such shogatsu decorations.
The kadomatsu and shimenawa decorations should be done by December 28th. It's thought that if these decorations are set up on the 29, 30, or 31 (omisoka), "the new year will be full of suffering" and that "preparing in just one night for the coming of the Toshigami-sama lacks sincerity".
Preparation for the new year is all finished by omisoka, and then you wait peacefully for the new year to come. This is the Japanese way of spending New Year's Eve.
For more information on shogatsu, read: From Lucky Bags To Shrine Visits - Enjoy New Year The Japanese Way!
Experience Omisoka Customs!
Ceremonies for welcoming the new year on "omisoka" are held at shrines and temples.
At shrines, an "oharai" ceremony is held to purify all uncleanliness of the year. On the Buddhist side, the joya no kane bell is rung to remove the 108 worldly desires that mislead the soul and body. There are differences depending on the type of shrine or temple, but usually tourists can participate or watch, so we recommend stopping by a shrine or temple on omisoka night.
A countdown event is also held at the bustling Shibuya Scramble Crossing. Although it isn't a traditional custom, it's a new trend that has become more and more popular in recent years. You might also want to stop by and experience this event as well.