A New Year’s Nod to Nihon

Think of it as Black Friday in Japan — without the violent pushing, shoving, fisticuffs and occasional weaponry.

New Year’s in Japan — Nihon in Japanese — is abundant with traditions. Far more than I’d attempt in a post. Every detail has meaning and significance. Many things do I miss about life in Japan, particularly New Year’s.

No year passes without a heartfelt nod to the country that I call home on the inside at New Year’s, their biggest holiday bar none.  I’ve incorporated some of those traditions into my American life. O-sooji, for example. The Great Clean.

Another post perhaps.

Hatsumode it’s called. The first visit to a shrine or temple to welcome the new year and pray.

People flock — oh do they flock by the thousands to the bigger or more popular shrines — in those first few days, which traditionally is time off to serenely mark the new year and spend time with family and eat all kinds of very weird foods reserved for the New Year that even the Japanese admit are pretty unpalatable but hey, it’s tradition.

A peek at the traffic the renowned shrines are getting as we speak:



And that’s at the toori! — the gate in a long passageway to Meiji Shrine

Traditionally you offer a prayer and deposit coins into the box. But because they can’t get up close — not without a 2-hour wait which btw they’re often VERY WILLING to do — they pray and toss coins from afar, hitting visitors on the heads.

In America, country of Whiners and Blamers that we’ve become, that’d be an immediate lawsuit. Not so in Japan, one of the least litigious societies in the world. (Another reason I miss it.)

Then there’s the kadomatsu — decorations of pine and bamboo with additions of writings, oranges and other goodies — each element again having significance. They’re set outside homes and businesses to purify and bless but they come in all sizes and could easily be set at a workspace or inside your tiny apartment! Well, I’m not in Japan at the moment (perhaps again one day …) but I can certainly bless my blog!


Kadomatsu — traditional Japanese New Year’s decoration that cleanses and blesses.

Then there’s one of my favs, hatsuhinode  — the first sunrise. Like the shrine visits, EXTREMELY popular! People flock — “flock,” what Japanese do consistently and well — to the coast and high places — manmade structures like Tokyo Tower are very much included! — to view the first sunrise. It is an EVENT, its own Disneyland in a sense for the special hotel and travel packages at primo viewing places around the islands.

Traditionally, that first sunrise is imbued with magical powers. It’s believed that Toshigami, a god of good luck, appeared then.

If the mountain won’t come to me, I’ll go to it — on the train of cyberspace, destination Mount Fuji. Fuji-san, as it’s called, is off-limits at the moment. It’s outside climbing season (which is dated precisely — precise, like all things Japanese!) and freakin’ cold.

I just love this photo — and appreciate it all the more for special efforts required to photograph hatsuhinode (“hatsu,” shared by all these events, means “first”) at Japan’s most famous peak.


A special All Nippon Airways flight last January 1 designed for passengers to capture the first sunrise alongside Fuji-san, Japan’s most famous mountain.

Prayers to and for the light for 2019

Happy New Year

Akemashite omedetou