New Year’s Day (O-shogatsu). New Year’s Day is the most joyful, cheerful, lively and colorful holiday usually accompanied with a few days of rest. The word shogatsu itself is the Japanese name for January, ganjitsu means January 1 – the first day of the year. One cannot describe diversity of Japanese traditions, rites and ceremonies related to New Year’s Day celebration in Japan.
Since the last quarter of the 19th century there has been widespread such thing like nengajo in Japan, New Year’s cards, which every Japanese family sends to their relatives and friends. The number of nengajo sent and received by one family can reach dozens of cards. Ganjitsu begins with checking the list of nengajo – the number of that sent and received should match. If by a reason during holiday rush they have forgotten to send their greetings to somebody – this oversight is amended by sending a nengajo. Such popularity goes back to launching Japan Post that sells and forwards New Year’s cards making impressive profit because of incredible amount of nengajo.
Crowds of people are pouring into shrines and temples to take part in cleansing ceremony. These rites, as a rule, are connected to fire which symbolizes cleansing element. 108 strikes of the bells in Buddhist temples usher New Year’s coming. When the last strike sounds people go out to meet New Year with the first rays of the sun. Early in the morning on January 1 Shintoists make hatsumode – the first attendance of the shrine in the starting Year. Then Japanese usually dedicate their afternoon to visit relatives and friends. During the New Year’s Day Japanese greet each other with the phrase "Akemashite omedeto gozaimasu!”, so be sure that New Year has come into effect because these words mean "Happy New Year!”
New Year’s interior of the Japanese house is characterized by variety of decorations. Depending on one or another tradition it can be decorated with pine, bamboo or plum tree branches, as well as bunches of willow or bamboo branches with mochi (rice rolls) hanging up on them. The main decoration is kadomatsu (literally "pine at gates”) – it is a special greeting for toshigami (New Year’s deity).
Russian tradition has it that how you celebrate New Year's will dictate the course of the next 12 months. There is something similar in Japan but with its own specific. They used to celebrate everything that was done for the first time on New Year – hatsu-ni (the first goods), hatsu-uri (the first trade), hatsu-bai (the first purchase). Japanese also have mass tradition called kakihajime – they paint a selected phrase with new brushes and that phrase has definite moral sense. Japanese believe if you write honestly and put your whole soul into this writing – it will come true.