How Japanese Children Celebrate New Year
Japanese New Year, known as お正月 Oshougatsu, is celebrated from January 1st to January 4th. There are many traditional activities carried out to welcome the New Year, from cleaning the house to welcome the gods, decorating the house with New Year’s decorations, offering prayers, eating New Year’s food, and playing New Year’s games.
Hatsuhinode is a tradition to view the First Sunrise on January 1st to symbolize the hope for good fortune for the New Year.
The first dream of the year is experienced on the night of January 1st (or the morning of January 2nd). Children put an image of Takarabune (Treasure Ship) under their pillows to chase bad dreams away. If the first dream of the New Year contains Mount Fuji, a hawk, or an eggplant, a good year is predicted ahead as those three items are all associated with good luck.
One of the Japanese New Year’s tradition is to visit a shrine to offer prayers to the gods. The New Year’s visit to the shrine is called 初詣 Hatsumoude. People will usually go during the first three days of January so the shrines are really packed with people during this time. During their visit to the shrine, people will usually offer donations in exchange omikuji, luck prediction of the year.
New Year’s Games
One traditional game played during this festive occasion is Takoage, a kite-flying game often played by boys. The kites are sold around mid-December and feature brightly colored kites of various shapes that symbolize good luck.
Girls often play Hanetsuki, a badminton like game. The game is played with decorative wooden paddles with a shuttlecock to chase away bad luck.
Another popular game is called Karuta, a card game where one player reads out poems, proverbs, or syllables, and other players need to quickly find the corresponding card.
These games are depicted in the New Year’s song Oshougatsu.
A New Year’s tradition that brings excitement to the children is otoshidama. Children will get money placed in small, decorated envelopes called pochibukuro from adult relatives and family friends. The amount could range from ¥2000 to ¥5000, although more is not uncommon. Children can then use these gifts to buy something for themselves or save them.
Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu!