In Japan, the New Year is the most important holiday. Christmas, in many ways, is just a warmup for the real celebration that is the New Year season, or Shōgatsu. The modern New Year season is typically considered the first three to seven days of January, with celebrations and traditions lasting throughout. Many businesses close from December 28th to January 3rd in recognition of the New Year. Some of the many traditions include:
December is considered one of the busiest months of the year, so before the year is up, it’s custom to send oseibo or year-end gifts to managers, customers, teachers, or other important figures in their lives to express appreciation. Oseibo can be anything, but popular gift choices are fresh food, tea, beer, and desserts (including chocolate gifts).
Before businesses close, many will host a holiday party with colleagues and bosses called Bonenkai, which has a tongue-in-cheek English translation: “forget-the-year party.”
Joya no kane
While people in the U.S. watch the ball drop in Times Square, people in Japan listen to Buddhist temple bells everywhere to ring exactly 108 times in an event called Joya no kane. The ritual of ringing the bells is meant to drive away negative emotions from the previous year.
Toshikoshi soba (year-end soba) is a noodle and broth dish related to ramen that has no particular recipe. Soba can made with all kinds of variations and twists, so the only thing that designates this soba dish as Toshikoshi is that you eat it on New Year’s Eve for good luck in the upcoming year.
On New Year’s Day, it’s tradition to enjoy a feast called Osechi ryori. This feast is meticulously planned, with each of its elements intended to bring luck, prosperity, and good health in the new year. While this feast traditionally takes many days to plan and prepare, it has since been modernized so that people can buy premade Osechi ryori in stores and restaurants. The types of food have changed too, adding more variety, and thankfully sometimes including chocolate in the dessert course!
If you’re interested in learning more about Japanese traditions, explore the ROYCE’ Chocolate blog. Be sure to see #HowJapanDoesChocolate next by trying our luxury Japanese-style chocolates, available online or at a ROYCE’ boutique near you.