Japanese New Year Traditions

What Japanese people do during the new year holidays, check it out!

First of all…

Happy new years 2016 to our fans all over the world!

2016 is the year of the Monkey, the 9th position on the Chinese Zodiac. Best wishes to you and your loved ones. We hope this year will be another great year for all of you.




In my country, we celebrate the new year with a countdown party and fireworks. Family and relatives who live far away will return home. It’s very much like Christmas in Western countries which we spend quality time with family.

(In case you are curious, I’m from Thailand.)

From what I learned during my time in Japan, the way Japanese people celebrate the new year is slightly different. I have never been to any countdown parties nor have other people I know. So what do people do on new year’s eve? I asked around and summed up the following:



1.House decorations


Japanese people decorate their houses with Kagamimochi (鏡餅).


Mochi is a rice cake made of sticky rice or rice powder. This Kagamimochi consists of two round mochi, one big, one small, positioned like a snowman with a bitter orange on top.

The mochi symbolizes the going and coming year. Orange, “daidai” in Japanese, represents generation. Japanese people also eat mochi on the new year. I will explain more in the next section.

Besides Kagamimochi, Japanese people also place “Kadomatsu” (literally means the gate pine) in pairs in front of the house to welcome ancestral spirits or “kami”, gods of the harvest.


Kadomatsu will be placed by the entrance after Christmas and will be there until the 7th of January. You can still see it if you are in Japan now.




2. First visit to the shrine or Hatsumode (初詣)

If you plan to come to Japan for a countdown party, you will be disappointed. There is no big event such as the one in New York times square in Japan. I asked around and found that there are some events at Yokohama Minato mirai or Shibuya. However, they are not as festive.

First visit to the shrine in the new year

One of the popular activities is to visit the shrine or Hatsumode in Japanese. Big shrines like Meiji shrine in Tokyo or Yasaka Shrine in Kyoto are crowded with thousands of people visiting from dawn to dusk.

First visit to the shrine in the new year

Mt. Takao at Hatsumode



Usually trains in Japan run until midnight. However, on new year’s eve, trains run all night.

If you plan to visit a shrine for Hatsumode, you don’t need to worry about transportation.


3. Special new year food 

In my country, there is no special food for new year. Ok, we might go to some nice restaurant or eat mom’s home cooked food. But in Japan, as I experienced, Japanese people eat:

  • Osechi or New year’s bento
  • Soba
  • Ozoni  (soup with mochi rice cake)




This tradition began in the Heian period. Seems like it’s the most important meal of the year for Japanese people.

New year table



Osechi are always packed in special lacquer boxes called “jubako”.

Today, most Osechi are purchased at department stores or local supermarkets. Some department stores start taking orders for Osechi in October, and the most popular varieties are sold out in two days.
Each dish in Osechi has a meaning, such as good health, happiness, prosperity, long life, and etc. For example, beans symbolize a wish/ prayer for good health.

Osechi food


This Osechi is very very fancy and it can cost about 15,000-50,000 yen per box.

You can make a reservation in advance at any department store. I personally have never tried it myself despite living in Japan for many years.


photo credit : H.Shikichi



Toshikoshi “year-passing” soba


Japanese people eat Toshikoshi  soba on new year’s eve.

soba with nission, famous dish from kyoto


Soba is Japanese noodle made from buckwheat.

Eating soba represents “letting go hardships in the previous year” because soba is easily cut while eating.


Tempura soba set




Ozoni is Japanese soup with Mochi.

It’s considered the most auspicious of the dishes eaten on new year’s day. The preparation and ingredients are different depending on the region and each household.


Photo credit : ©Tourism Commission of Hakuba Village/©JNTO


homemade ozoni with fish cake


In Kyoto, Kyoto carrot is a must have ingredient in Ozoni. Typically Kyoto carrots are longer than normal carrots and the color is stronger as well.

And white miso is also used in Kyoto style Ozoni.

kyo carrot.jpg
Kyoto carrots


I never knew why Japanese people eat Mochi on new years until very recently. As you might know, mochi is very sticky and it can be stretched – it represents longer life.

In summary, eat soba on new year’s eve to let go of the hardships of the previous year and then eat mochi on new years day for a longer life.




In the next blog, we will talk about new year’s bargains. Stay tuned for more updates from TIC blog!





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