By Miki Nomura
There are so many different ways to celebrate the holidays in Japan, but celebrations vary for each family.
It might sound strange to you, but Christmas is an event mainly for couples and New Year’s Day is for families here in Japan. We don’t usually spend our time with our families on Christmas, so I’m going to tell you a little about how I celebrate New Year’s holidays with my family.
My parents and all of my relatives and cousins gather at my grandfather and grandmother’s house usually on December 31st. We don’t live close to each other and hear from them only occasionally, so we talk about how they are and what they have done when we get together. I’m pretty sure that I’m going to talk about my wonderful experiences that I got in Toronto this year!
At night, we have temaki sushi (hand-rolled sushi). To prepare for this my uncles, aunts, cousins, and I go shopping in the late afternoon. In front of the fish merchant, we can’t help getting excited and argumentative. “I want to eat maguro (tuna)!”, “I love ikura (salmon caviar)!”, “No way, we can’t miss buri (yellowtail snapper)!” In the end, there are more than 10 kinds of raw fish in our shopping basket. By the time we arrive home, vinegared rice, dried laver seaweed, and anything important for ‘temaki sushi’ has been prepared thanks to my grandmother. So, the ‘temaki sushi’ is ready when we place the raw fish on a plate.
The basic way to enjoy ‘temaki sushi’ is to put the seaweed on your hand, put the rice on the seaweed, and put some vegetable (sliced cucumber, macrophyll, etc.) on the rice. Then put your favourite raw fish on the vegetable, roll them, dip it a little bit to soy sauce, and eat it! This is the most fun part in my family. My family members surround the table and try to reach out for anything we want to have.
After the ‘temaki sushi’ party, we relax. Some of us stare at year-end special programs on TV with glazed eyes while the others doze off.
Around 11 p.m., we have ‘toshi koshi soba,’ which means year-crossing buckwheat noodles. This is Japanese tradition that rooted in the Edo period. Buckwheat noodles are easier to be cut compared to the other kinds of noodles, so we eat ‘toshi koshi soba’ infusing a spiritual meaning to cut off ties with disasters that we might have had this year and start a new year with fresh minds. After eating ‘toshi koshi soba’, we relax some more and go to bed.
Then, in the morning on New Year’s Day, we greet each other saying “A happy new year! Thanks for everything last year and thanks in advance for this year.” And, the adults give ‘otoshidama’ to the children. ‘Otoshidama’ is New Year’s gift money. As you might expect, this is one of the happiest times for children.
At brunch, we have ‘osechi,’ which is unique food packed in a multitiered box and served during the New Year’s holidays. The basic composition of it is three kinds of appetizers made of fish for celebratory purposes, vegetables such as taros, carrots, konnyaku, etc. cooked almost dry in soy sauce and water, food in sweetened vinegar, and a broiled fish.
‘Hatsu moude’ is an important event that can’t be missed on New Year’s Day as well. We visit shrines, stand before the altar, throw a coin into the donation box in front of it, and thank God for their help last year and in advance for this year.
Lots of people go to ‘hatsu moude’ on this day and the shrines are so crowded, we are usually tired when we come back from ‘hatsu moude,’ so we enjoy our relaxed time at home at the rest of the day.
This is how I celebrate New Year’s holidays with my family. I love this precious time when I can chat with my relatives and cousins who I don’t hear from so often. Every time I spend time with my family, I realize that how happy I am with my family! I can’t wait to see them this year!