Shinto, Buddhist: Ring in with Japanese Oshogatsu

Photo in public domainSUNDAY, JANUARY 1: At midnight on December 31, bells ring out across Japan for the 108 sins of Buddhist belief—and with that, Japan begins its extensive Oshogatsu (New Year) celebrations. Following an early-morning meal of soba noodles, Japanese typically receive piles of postcards from family and friends, wishing one another luck in the New Year. (Get a visual of traditional foods and decorations from a PBS blogger.) Customarily, Shinto devotees visit a shrine on Jan. 1, often clad in a kimono or other formal clothing. This centuries-old ritual still is popular in Japan, along with many other New Year traditions—even though Japanese went through a major cultural shift when the New Year date changed a century ago. Japan accepted the Gregorian calendar five years after the Meiji Restoration around the era of our Civil War.

Japanese New Year events continue for several days past January 1. Since customs began before the invention of the refrigerator, most New Year foods are dried or preserve easily: boiled seaweed, sweetened black soybeans and sticky rice cakes are commonly served. (Wikipedia has details.) New Year’s games mimicking “pin the tail on the donkey” and kite flying delight adults and children alike. Children usually receive money in elaborate envelopes on Jan. 1. In an East-West convergence of cultures, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony has become associated with the Japanese New Year. On the seventh day of the New Year season—January 7—Japanese eat a seven-herb rice soup, to ease their stomachs from the multitude of feast foods ingested during the week’s celebrations.

Originally published at, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

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