Introduction to Shogatsu: The Japanese New Year Celebration

Shogatsu, also known as Oshogatsu, is the traditional Japanese New Year celebration. It is one of the most important and widely celebrated holidays in Japan. The history of Shogatsu dates back thousands of years and is deeply rooted in Japanese culture and traditions.

Shogatsu has its origins in the ancient Chinese lunar calendar, which was adopted by Japan in the 6th century. The celebration of the New Year was originally based on the lunar calendar, but it was later changed to follow the Gregorian calendar in 1873. Despite this change, many traditional customs and beliefs associated with Shogatsu have been preserved and continue to be practiced today.

The Significance of Shogatsu in Japanese Culture

Shogatsu holds great significance in Japanese culture and is considered a time of renewal and fresh beginnings. It is a time for people to reflect on the past year and set goals for the coming year. The New Year is seen as a time to leave behind any negativity or bad luck from the previous year and start afresh.

Symbolism plays a significant role in Shogatsu. The New Year is often associated with the concept of “hatsuhinode,” which means the first sunrise of the year. Watching the first sunrise is believed to bring good luck and prosperity for the coming year. Many people gather at beaches or mountaintops to witness this auspicious event.

Preparations for Shogatsu: Cleaning, Decorating, and Cooking

In preparation for Shogatsu, there are several important traditions that are followed. One such tradition is “osoji,” which is the Japanese tradition of cleaning before the New Year. It is believed that cleaning the house thoroughly before Shogatsu will help remove any impurities or bad luck from the previous year.

Another important aspect of preparing for Shogatsu is decorating the house. Two traditional decorations used during this time are “kadomatsu” and “shimenawa.” Kadomatsu is a pair of bamboo arrangements placed at the entrance of homes or businesses to welcome the gods. Shimenawa is a sacred rope made from rice straw that is hung above doorways to ward off evil spirits.

Cooking traditional foods is also an essential part of Shogatsu preparations. One of the most important dishes served during this time is “osechi ryori.” Osechi ryori is a special assortment of traditional Japanese dishes that are prepared in advance and eaten during the first few days of the New Year.

Traditional Foods Served During Shogatsu: Osechi Ryori

Osechi ryori is a central part of the Shogatsu celebration and holds great symbolic meaning. The dishes are carefully chosen and prepared to represent wishes for good fortune, health, and prosperity in the coming year. Each dish has its own significance and is often presented in beautiful lacquer boxes.

Some popular dishes served during Shogatsu include “kuromame” (sweet black soybeans), which symbolize good health and a long life, “kazunoko” (herring roe), which represents fertility and abundance, and “tazukuri” (dried sardines), which symbolize a bountiful harvest.

The preparation of osechi ryori is a time-consuming process that requires careful planning and attention to detail. Many families spend days or even weeks preparing these special dishes, often using traditional recipes that have been passed down through generations.

Visiting Shrines and Temples During Shogatsu: Hatsumode

One of the most important customs during Shogatsu is “hatsumode,” which refers to the first shrine or temple visit of the year. It is believed that by visiting a shrine or temple during this time, one can receive blessings for the coming year and pray for good fortune and success.

There are several popular shrines and temples across Japan that attract large crowds during Shogatsu. One of the most famous is Meiji Shrine in Tokyo, which sees millions of visitors during the New Year period. Other popular destinations include Fushimi Inari Taisha in Kyoto and Itsukushima Shrine in Hiroshima.

During hatsumode, people often make offerings of money or food to the gods and pray for their wishes to come true. It is also common to purchase lucky charms or amulets from the shrine or temple to bring good luck throughout the year.

Shogatsu Traditions: Mochi Pounding and Kagami Mochi

Mochi pounding, known as “mochitsuki,” is a traditional activity that takes place during Shogatsu. It involves pounding steamed rice with a wooden mallet in a large mortar until it becomes a sticky paste. The mochi is then shaped into round balls or other shapes and eaten as a special treat during the New Year.

Another traditional Shogatsu decoration is “kagami mochi,” which consists of two round rice cakes stacked on top of each other with a small bitter orange placed on top. Kagami mochi is believed to represent the mirror of the gods and is often displayed in homes as a symbol of good luck and prosperity.

Shogatsu Gifts: Otoshidama and Nengajo

During Shogatsu, it is customary to exchange gifts with family, friends, and colleagues. One traditional gift given to children is “otoshidama,” which is a small envelope containing money. Otoshidama is usually given by parents, grandparents, or other relatives as a token of good luck and prosperity for the coming year.

Another popular tradition during Shogatsu is sending “nengajo,” which are Japanese New Year’s postcards. Nengajo are sent to family, friends, and business associates to express well wishes for the New Year. It is common for people to send a large number of nengajo, often exceeding 100 cards.

Shogatsu Events and Festivals Across Japan

Shogatsu is celebrated with various events and festivals across Japan. One of the most famous is the “Tokyo Countdown,” which takes place in Tokyo’s Shibuya district. Thousands of people gather at Shibuya Crossing to count down to the New Year and watch a spectacular fireworks display.

Another popular event is the “Toshikoshi Soba Festival” in Kyoto. Toshikoshi soba, or year-end noodles, are traditionally eaten on New Year’s Eve to symbolize longevity and good luck. The festival features various soba stalls where visitors can enjoy a bowl of hot soba noodles.

Modern Celebrations of Shogatsu: Countdowns and Fireworks

In recent years, modern celebrations have become increasingly popular during Shogatsu. Many cities across Japan now host countdown events similar to those held on New Year’s Eve in Western countries. These events often feature live music performances, light shows, and fireworks displays.

Countdown events are particularly popular in major cities such as Tokyo, Osaka, and Yokohama. Thousands of people gather at designated countdown locations to welcome the New Year with excitement and anticipation.

How to Celebrate Shogatsu at Home: Tips and Ideas

If you want to celebrate Shogatsu at home, there are several ways you can incorporate Japanese traditions into your celebration. One idea is to cook traditional foods such as osechi ryori or mochi. There are many recipes available online that can guide you through the process.

You can also decorate your home with traditional Japanese decorations such as kadomatsu or kagami mochi. These decorations can be made at home using materials such as bamboo, pine branches, and rice cakes.

In addition, you can incorporate customs and activities such as mochi pounding or writing nengajo into your Shogatsu celebration. These activities can be enjoyed with family and friends and help create a festive atmosphere.


Shogatsu is a time of great significance in Japanese culture. It is a time for reflection, renewal, and fresh beginnings. The celebration of the New Year is deeply rooted in tradition and is marked by various customs and rituals.

From cleaning and decorating to cooking traditional foods and visiting shrines, Shogatsu is a time for families to come together and celebrate. Whether you choose to celebrate Shogatsu in Japan or in your own home, it is an opportunity to learn more about Japanese culture and traditions.

By embracing the customs and traditions associated with Shogatsu, you can experience the rich history and symbolism that make this holiday so special. So why not celebrate Shogatsu this year and start the New Year with a renewed sense of hope and optimism?


What is Shogatsu?

Shogatsu is the Japanese New Year’s Day, which is celebrated on January 1st.

What are some traditional customs associated with Shogatsu?

Some traditional customs associated with Shogatsu include cleaning the house, preparing special foods, visiting shrines and temples, and sending New Year’s cards.

What is the significance of cleaning the house before Shogatsu?

Cleaning the house before Shogatsu is believed to symbolize the removal of impurities and bad luck from the previous year, making way for good luck and fortune in the new year.

What are some traditional foods eaten during Shogatsu?

Some traditional foods eaten during Shogatsu include ozoni (a soup with mochi rice cakes), toshikoshi soba (buckwheat noodles eaten on New Year’s Eve), and osechi ryori (a variety of traditional dishes served in special boxes).

What is the significance of visiting shrines and temples during Shogatsu?

Visiting shrines and temples during Shogatsu is believed to bring good luck and fortune for the new year. Many people also pray for health, happiness, and success in the coming year.

What are New Year’s cards?

New Year’s cards, or nengajo, are postcards sent to friends and family to wish them a happy new year. They often feature the zodiac animal of the upcoming year and are delivered on January 1st.