Homemade Celebrations: a look at New Year's in Japan

Homemade Celebrations New Year's In Japan, mee a bee

by Jacqui Miyabayashi of Mee A Bee

One of the things I have tried to embrace in my adopted country Japan is the celebration of events like New Year’s (o-sho-gatsu). The Japanese celebrate the beginning of the year with grand finesse and it has a lot of appeal to crafty types like me. Bigger than Christmas it lasts a few days and is a lot of fun to prepare for.

First there is the food. If you know anything about Japanese food then you would expect celebratory food to be amazing. You’re not wrong. It is beautifully and artfully presented even if it does not tempt all taste buds.

One of the first things I bought as a newlywed was a handcrafted lacquerware box for the New Year feast. Called a jubako it has three or four tiers and each is filled with various foods that represent good health, long-life and luck for the upcoming year. In this picture you can see we have supplemented our homemade dishes with purchased foods. My husband and I have our tried and true recipes and rely on my mother-in-law for other favorites.

The table should look as appetizing as the food so we use special chopsticks, placemats and other decorations. These often feature the Japanese zodiac symbol for the year. 2011 is the year of the rabbit (usagi). It’s easy to make table adornments from Japanese paper applying simple paper folding (origami) techniques. Make your own origami rabbit following instructions from Origami-Instructions.com.

Homemade Celebrations New Year's In Japan, mee a bee

It’s also traditional to decorate the house for the New Year. It’s been my observation that this is done with careful consideration resulting in a refined elegance that could only be Japanese.

A symbolic door wreath wards off evil and welcomes good fortune. It will be displayed for just the first few days of the New Year and then burnt to avoid offending the gods.
It probably takes a lifetime to learn the art of Japanese flower arrangement (ikebana) but each year I do try to decorate inside with a few sprigs from the garden. Camellia, pine and winter berries are readily available. The key is to keep it simple.

Since the kids are home from school from Christmas to mid-January it’s a favorite past-time to make our own decorations. This year we had a go at this amazing Mochibana decoration designed by artist Yoshihiro Suzuki and available for free download at Creative Park.

My boys love to get crafty so we also made our own New Year’s greeting cards (nenga jo) to mail out to friends. Here are a few of the cute hand-drawn ones made by my son’s third grade friends. Rabbits feature prominently!

nenga-jo, Homemade Celebrations New Year's In Japan, mee a bee

Each year I learn something new and truly appreciate living in such a culturally rich land. Happy New Year!
You can learn more about Japanese New Year customs here on Wikipedia.

otoshidama, celebrating the new year in Japan, mee a bee

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