Anmona Handique Mahanta
The countdown has begun and despite the darkest year of pandemic, the world didn’t stop celebrating the merriness of Christmas and their excitement to welcome the New Year, 2021. Recently, the whole world virtually united once again to celebrate Christmas, decorated their houses, visited friends and families, had their big fat Christmas dinner and pictures all just floated on the social platform like much before. But the pandemic didn’t stop and still interfering into our lives where majority of the countries especially UK, USA and some other European Nations have again started their lock down phases in a much strictest manner. Thankfully, lock down hasn’t much bothered Japan and by God’s grace things are going well. So, today in this article, with all the New Year vibes around, I would like to pen down my thoughts to share a small glimpse of how Christmas occasions and New Year celebrations happen in Japan of whatever we have experienced so far in this beautiful country.
Christmas in Japan is all about the beautiful sparkling decorations, glittery atmosphere, delicious foods with the busiest restaurants and more about spreading happiness and love where people generally enjoy as Christmas Eve rather than a Christmas Day. It is said, the reason behind this is mainly due to the presence of a fewer Japanese Christian community in this nation, where one can witness that the Japanese do not consider Christmas from a religious perspective but as moments of joy and warmth where couples usually spend time strolling around watching the Christmas lighting together, taking pictures enjoying a romantic dinner meal, families are out with their children shopping around and people buying Christmas gifts for one another and capturing the dazzling Christmas winter moments.
In Japan, Christmas is not considered as a National Holiday and offices remain open while some schools have their holidays which are not particularly given for 25th December, but because it comes under their Winter break period. Every snack shop, restaurants remain crowded where Japanese like to hop on fast foods like Pizzas, fried chicken, KFC etc. during this period. Different flavored cakes get displayed on stores much before a week of Christmas and these cake shops remain the most crowded during the Christmas day. It is the Christmas Cake which is considered to be the traditional Christmas food among the Japanese which is a particular fruit cake usually with strawberry topping, some decorated with fir trees, flowers, with lot of fruits and some with a Santa Claus. They have a mild sweetness in taste which makes you feel that you are having a control in consuming sugar in your diet, very spongy, baked with whipped cream.
A food stall in a Mall in Nagoya (Photo: AHM)
During Christmas season, the decorations mostly start from the very first week of December and lit ups happen after the dusk and in many places such as malls, stores Christmas carols are played as background music. In fact, this time fortunately I got to see a live concert that was held in the main city of Nagoya for the Christmas Eve which was performed by some Japanese school children along with their mentors performing Christmas carols with musical instruments of violins and pianos. It was a public event and every year held at different places where this time I got to see at Nagoya. Hence, Christmas in Japan is just beautiful where freezing winter adds up to the warmth and happiness along the jingle bells.
A beautiful decoration made at J.R Takashimaya, Nagoya (Photo: AHM)
And just five more days after the grand Christmas illuminations, comes the New Year and New Year celebrations in Japan are usually a mixed combination of western ways and traditional customs. New year called as ‘Oshogatsu’ in Japanese is one of the most important times for all Japanese families which remains a holiday period from 31st Dec to 4th January and is full of rich traditions. Most of the big cities just after the Christmas seem quiet and empty as majority of people head their own hometowns to celebrate New Year Eve with their families. Different places have different New Year themes and arrangements. Like it’s generally the main places where New Year celebrations surround with huge public gatherings, and in some places even countdown boards are put up where people mostly the young boys and girls, young couples and people stay up to the 12 o’ clock ticking accompanied with hooting, songs and music. However, security officers are all present during such gatherings so that things stay in control and harmony is maintained during the concerned hours. Places like Tokyo, Osaka are celebrated with all pomp and show and mostly the entire city areas are lit up. Unlike the traditional customs of New Year eve, people in Japan mostly enjoy strolling around the attractive illuminations where entire streets, malls, convenience stores and other such shops are decorated, couples celebrate romantic dinner dates, families visit each other places with New Year souvenirs.
People queuing up for their turns inside the famous Kita-Mido temple at Osaka (Photo: AHM)
Now, what are some of the traditional customs during New Year in Japan? Much like India, the Japanese visit shrines and temples on the New Year day traditionally. i.e. on the 1st of January, to seek blessings from the Deity and it is the temples and shrines which are found to be mostly crowded on that day. Apart from worshiping on that very day, there are some other traditional old customs that Japanese believe and has maintained every year on the New Year’s Eve. One of the main customs is hearing to the sound of the bell (bell peals) which is called Joya-no-Kane, a Buddhist tradition which has been continuously maintained and carried out as an important ritual throughout every places of the country. This bell is struck at the shrines for 108 times for a duration of around 1-2 years with the belief of removing unwanted desires from human beings for the New Year (Source-Internet). Another custom is eating a type of Japanese noodle (Soba) called Toshikoshi-Soba, where the belief lies to get a long and healthy life. Knowing this I wondered, if this could be one of the reasons that Japanese usually live a longer life than compared to other humans on this Earth. Following to one of such customs, which is known as kadomatsu (which is a vase decorated with pine, bamboo and plum trees) last year, we bought it for our home during the New Year. This vase is kept in front of the home entrances which are believed to receive great blessings from ancestors for the year ahead.
Kadomatsu placed at the entrance of the residence of yours truly in Nagoya (Photo: AHM)
On a similar note, with the belief to seek good fortune, another such thing that is a common sight in front of every house, office, malls here is the New Year Wreathe (Shimekazari in Japanese) made of twigs, paper clips and uses an orange. As such, there are many similar traditional customs that Japanese perform during the New Year that are performed with different beliefs with the ultimate aim to seek peace, prosperity and a good life among one another. However, there are some office New Year parties which I would like to mention in my other upcoming articles.
Hence, this time in Japan, Christmas was celebrated with the same spur of happiness where people abide to all the Covid-19 norms and regulations. Although certain Christmas schedules have been cancelled due to the pandemic, the atmosphere remained bright and lovely despite the new normal and wish the New Year happens the same way. As such, with our prayers and wishes, let's hope for a better and safer world that the evil corona leaves us sooner and let’s all look ahead for a beautiful future welcoming 2021 with all our heart. Happy New Year 2021 to all of my lovely readers!
[Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily
reflect the opinions of the Publisher.]