Oshogatsu and Osechi-ryori
New Years, or Oshogatsu, may be Japan's most important holiday, but it isn't the best time to visit. Shops and restaurants are closed from December 28 to January 3, rendering the streets eerily quiet, except at temples and shrines, which are packed with families conducting hatsumode, the first temple visits of the year. On residential streets, homes display kadomatsu (pine, bamboo and plum decorations) next to closed doors graced with shimenawa (rice straw and paper decorations). But while a New Year visit to Japan might not be great for tourists, it's an ideal time for people with close Japanese friends who can join the celebration.
What can they expect? Oshogatsu is a special time of year when families gather together, from near and far, rather like Christmas and Thanksgiving holidays combined. Children are given otoshidama (gifts of money) by elders, and time is devoted to family, community, reflection and prayer. It's a time to start everyhing afresh, and no work is permitted on this sacred day, when even the chopsticks are pointed on both sides so the gods can partake in the feast. In order to prepare, the entire house is given a thorough cleaning, and a special type of ancient cuisine called osechi-ryori is either painstakenly prepared, or purchased from elegant kaiseki restaurants. MORE