Hello and “yoi otoshi o” (have a happy new year) from J-List!
Dec 31st he here in Japan, and that’s a special day in Japan. While people run around town making last minute preparations for the long Japanese holiday. Since Japan closes down completely for three days, except for convenience stores and certain department stores, most people buy all the food and other items they think they’ll need during the New Year’s festivities. (The post office opens again on Jan 4th.)
In the U.S., at least, New Year’s Eve is a time to party, but in Japan this is seldom true. Japanese eat soba (noodles), known as “toshi-koshi soba” (“Cross into the New Year noodles”), which are said to give you a long life, since the noodles are long. They sit in the kotatsu (low table with a heater under it) and eat mikans (mandarin oranges), and look back on the past year. Most Japanese watch the famous Kouhaku (lit. “Red-White”), a 3 hour TV show in which all the famous Japanese singers — from enka singers to Morning Musume to Japanese rappers — do “battle” (male singers vs. female singers) by singing songs, to see which team is more talented. Kouhaku is broadcast in something like 80 countries around the world, so if you’ve got a Japanese TV channel in your cable box, maybe you can get it too. If viewers don’t want to watch Kouhaku, don’t worry — all the other TV networks in Japan eagerly fight for ratings with interesting shows of their own.
Another part of New Year’s in Japan is eating mochi. Mochi is basically white rice that has been compressed until it’s a hard object that looks like white plastic. But when you cook it (in a microwave or toaster oven), it becomes a hot and delicious treat that all Japanese enjoy. It’s very, very chewy, and every year a number of elderly Japanese go to their deaths choking on mochi. Since it’s made from compressed rice, it’s also very high in calories — there are supposedly two rice bowels of rice crammed into one square of mochi. Some mochi, which may look like a little snowman to Western eyes (a large ball of mochi with a smaller ball on top), is actually ornamental and used as a decoration.
On New Year’s Day, it’s time to go off to your favorite Shinto shrine for “Hatsumoude” (First Prayer of the New Year), in which you will clap your hands together and pray for happiness. Rather than a religious event, this is a fun thing that Japanese take part in almost universally. When you meet people for the first time in the new year, you tell them “Akemashite omedetou” which literally means “Congratulations on opening [the new year].” The phrase I used above, “Yoi otoshi o” (have a happy new year) is only used before Jan 1.
All rites and customs that have to do with New Year’s Day flow from Shinto. Shinto (lit. “Way of the Gods”), if you don’t know, is one of the two religions of Japan, and is originally a system of beliefs that there are “kami” (gods or spirits) in things like trees, rocks, mountains — quite similar to the American Indian beliefs, actually, and logically so, since Japanese and American Indians are probably descended from the same stock. The other religion in Japan are the many flavors of Buddhism (there are as many sects of Buddhism as there are Protestant religions). As a general rule, Japanese turn to Shinto for anything to do with life (marriages, baby christenings), but turn to Buddhism for anything relating to death (funerals).
We’ve got some nice items for you on the J-List site today, as posted by Mayumi and Yasu and Tomo. New stock of DVDs, including a killer 4 hour DVD from Big Morkal, some fresh stock of new manga and other items, new stock of Japanese “Black Black” caffeinated spicy gum, new toy item, some interesting “wacky” items too, some new $5 magazines, and some new stock of photobooks that have come in. Please check out the new items!
We’re still seeing that many customers are getting multiple copies of our J-List mailings. We’re still on the problem and hope to have it solved soon. If you are getting multiple copies of our mailings, please email us and we’ll check into the problem for you.