News Sushi: Morsels of News from Japan and Beyond #43

Editor Note:It is Friday and that means it is time for the World Famous, soon to be Intergalactic Famous, News Sushi from our very own, Hamish Downie. Hamish brings us a decidedly different slant on Pop Culture as viewed through the lens of a non-native living in Japan.

Thank you Hamish, for your insights.

 
December 28th. It’s not quite Christmas and it’s not quite New Year.

Did you enjoy all of the Christmas films we recommended over the holidays? I hope so.

In late December, Japanese do what we would call “Spring Cleaning”… just like we do, so we can start the year fresh. It used to be on the 31st, but now everyone has so much to do, it must be done early.

Also, like we do with Christmas Cards, New Year’s postcards must be sent out to family, friends, and work colleagues (as well as clients). Negajo (New Years Cards) are usually adorned with the new year’s Chinese zodiac sign (Japan changes over to the new animal from January 1st). And it’s kind of like sending out a little thank you card.

Around this time, traditional Japanese will also send a winter’s gift, Osebo, which is often food-based. Here’s an unboxing of a Starbuck’s one:

In a couple of days, I’ll be having Toshikoshi Soba midnight on New Year’s Eve…

As you might imagine (those of you who read my Christmas Movie reviews), New Years is all about spending time with family – not fireworks and getting drunk in the park (that’s in Summer).

And this is how we begin. And if you are my partner, you’ve also made some homemade Amazake (Sweet Sake) to enjoy with the soba.

It’s really quite delicious, and there’s only traces of alcohol, so it’s fine for kids to drink it.

Then, it’s off to bed, and hope that you have a lucky “Hatsuyume” or New Year’s Dream. It’s considered lucky to dream of Eggplants, Mount Fuji, a Hawk, or hopefully all three at once!

According to wikipedia:
“It is considered to be particularly good luck to dream of Mount Fuji, a hawk, and an eggplant. This belief has been in place since the early Edo period but there are various theories regarding the origins as to why this particular combination was considered to be auspicious. One theory suggests that this combination is lucky because Mount Fuji is Japan’s highest mountain, the hawk is a clever and strong bird, and the word for eggplant (nasu or nasubi 茄子) suggests achieving something great (nasu 成す). Another theory suggests that this combination arose because Mount Fuji, falconry, and early eggplants were favorites of the shōgun Tokugawa Ieyasu.”

It’s mostly a tradition in Kanto area (Greater Tokyo), but many final year students will go to the beach or a mountain and watch the sun rise, which is considered lucky for the coming year, especially for exam results.

Then, it’s off to the local shrine, or if you are a lover of waiting in long multiple hour long queues, then you might go to a major shrine to pray for the year ahead. You can do this up to 3-5 days after New Years Day.

It’s not really a good idea to film inside a shrine, but this is just for illustration purposes.

Hopefully you’ve already bought your Osechi (New Year Traditional meal eaten over a few days) and prepared your white miso with mochi (rice-based – which is easy to choke on – be careful!)… Each Osechi has a special meaning, such as the lobster or shrimp with it’s bent back, representing old age, so you are wishing your family a long life. And the fish eggs, representing your wish to have many offspring.

Most families get them from department stores now, however. There’s also a big debate on whether it is better to serve them on a round or square dish.

Otherwise, it’s just for relaxing and doing nothing! Ironic considering all the work that goes into making all of this! About ten years ago, when I was first in Japan, the ATMs would all close down for a week, so you really had to be careful, but these days it’s not that big of a problem. But, that also means that the workers don’t get a holiday as well.

Hope you are enjoying learning about New Years in Japan!

As this is before New Years Day, I’ll say this phrase:

yoi otoshi o omukae kudasai

(it’s a different phrase on the actual day)

Have a happy new year!


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