Greetings! My name is Amy Winters-Voss and I write urban fantasy based on Japanese mythology. Today I get to share about the culture of one of the places I love most—Japan.
New Year’s Day in Japan
The big winter holiday in Japan is New Years. It’s an official government holiday and many businesses are closed from December 29th through January 4th. It’s a hectic but fund time filled with New Years office parties, putting out special decorations such as a stack of rice cakes with an orange or a bundle of pine and bamboo tied with straw, the annual cleaning of the house from top to bottom, feasting on traditional foods, the temple bells ringing in the New Year, giving kids a red envelope with cash, surprise bags (where the contents aren’t known before hand) purchased at retailers, fireworks displays, watching the first sunrise of the year, and visiting the local shrine or temple.
Why not the Lunar New Year?
Unlike much of Asia, Japan doesn’t celebrate the Lunar New Year anymore. Though it used to. Many aspects of China’s scholarship were imported to Japan about the 6th century—from the symbol based writing system to the lunar calendar. That changed in 1873 when the Meiji Era government, in its sweeping changes to modernize and be recognized by the West as a major power, adopted the Gregorian calendar. Events were shifted to match. Thus, Japan celebrates New Years on January 1st.
What about Christmas?
Japan doesn’t celebrate Christmas like the west. It’s not a time of family gatherings, gift giving, and big holiday feasts. Instead, Christmas Eve is considered a romantic day. It’s not a government holiday. Though, you’ll can see Christmas light displays. And through a clever marketing ploy, KFC became very popular on Christmas and Christmas Eve.
New Years Cards
One of the most popular traditions is sending New Years cards, called nengajo, to family and friends, expressing gratitude to those who have helped you during the year. The post office puts in extra effort to ensure that these special greetings are delivered early on the morning of January 1st.
Let’s Make a New Years Card
Even though Japan doesn’t follow the lunar calendar any more, they still enjoy reference the twelve signs of the Chinese zodiac. 2022 will be Year of the Tiger, so it will be a popular theme for cards. Mt. Fuji is also a popular icon on cards.
I’ve collected a few designs from Freepik (one of my favorite graphics places) that you can download for free and print on cardstock.
Here are some of the common greetings in kanji and kana (the Japanese writing system), a Romanized version so you can see how it’s said, and an English translation.
- 明けましておめでとうございます。[Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu.] – Happy New Year
- 昨年はお世話になりました。[Sakunen wa osewa ni narimashita.] – Thank you for all your support last year.
- 今年もよろしくお願いします。[Kotoshi mo yoroshiku onegaishimasu.] – I’m looking forward to the goodness of our continued friendship/relationship. (for relationship here, think work or office).
If you are sending your card to Japan write 年賀 (Nenga) on it so the Japanese post office will know it should go with the new year’s cards. Cards sent to Japan should get to the local post office by December 25th to be guaranteed to arrive on New Years Day.
What are your favorite New Year’s traditions?
“To make things worse, yesterday I heard you’re covered in irezumi tattoos. Nonogawa may be in the sticks, but we all know what that means here.”
I blink. Why are little old ladies so rude?
“Well? Are you?” she presses.
While I deserve the disdain, I don’t want my boss to take heat for me. “Ma’am, the community respects Satou-san. I’ll do my best for his sake.”
She draws out the syllables. “You dodged.” As she crosses her arms, her sharp eyes shift to a predatory glint. “If you won’t answer, roll up your sleeve. I know yakuza ink when I see it.”
My head swivels. Satou, where are you? Make your vicious aunt heel. She’s really causing my hackles to raise, but I don’t want to do anything stupid. “Ma’am?”
In the Hiragi clan, I was good at remembering names, because the alternative could be costly. What did Satou say her name was? Oh yeah—Nakamura Hisako, the town’s beloved matriarch. When I was yakuza, I would have never let a little old lady corner me. But I’m caught flat-footed because I can’t use any of the in-your-face phrases that bubble up to get her to lay off. I haven’t done a damned thing to her. What gives?
So, I take a deep breath. No attitude. “Nakamura-sama, it’s becoming more common in the cities. People keep ‘em out of sight to avoid the stigma.”
As if I’ll tell this biddy the full truth. Later, I can scream rebellion in gokudou drawl all I want. But her outburst is the proverbial piano hanging overhead, threatening to crash down on the little hope I have in this town.
At twenty-four, I should have a high school diploma and a college degree or employment experience. This is my only chance. Suck it up, Umeji. So, I bow deep. “I apologize that my tattoos offend. If I could turn back time, I’d not have done it. How may I help you?”
Harrumphing, she turns on her heel with the grace of a ballerina, leaving me with some serious heartburn. Hiro, my big brother in the Hiragi clan, had taught me to ferret out everything that seemed out of place. How does an old lady move that fast?
When I finish stocking, I grab my baseball-style jacket with its embroidered fox on black and gold silk and beeline it to Satou. Just my luck, his aunt beats me there.
I wait behind her and examine my shoes. Faint reflections of fluorescent lights show on the tile floor.
“That tattooed punk is bad for business.” She points, doubtless aware of how rude she’s being. “He dares to flaunt his past wearing that rebel jacket, instead of considering this store’s reputation. I’ve heard all manner of rumors. Mark my words, Kazuo, people will stop shopping here.” Full-to-the-brim grocery bags strain her arthritic knuckles.
While Nakamura’s concern is understandable, does she care that this ‘rebel jacket’ is the only one I own? I was fortunate someone dropped it by the penitentiary after emptying my apartment. My fists clench, pulling on the stitches from yesterday’s wound. Why does this town love her, anyway?