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December 31 - January 4
New Year's Eve
Shinto Shrines

Kawasaki Shrine - Oshogatsu

The most important and elaborate holiday in Japan is Oshogatsu -- the celebration of the Japanese New Year. More than just a single day, the holiday festivities usually begin on the eve of the new year and continue to the first full moon of the year, usually in mid-January.

The days leading up to New Year’s Eve are referred to as osoji, a “cleaning” that clears the way for a fresh start for the coming twelve months. Osoji has its origins in purification rituals and a great deal of time is spent cleaning up houses, shops and offices.

Japan officially adopted a solar calendar in 1873 and the New Year starts on January 1, but in rural Japan villagers continue to follow the lunar calendar and Oshogatsu is the Lunar New Year.

New Year's Eve

On New Year's Eve, shortly before midnight, Buddhist temples ring bells 108 times to remember Japan's hardships.

The ritual is a way to send out the old year and usher in the new.


Many Japanese families start the New Year with a "mochi" or rice cake breakfast. The rice cake is served in a stew called "Ozoni."

Rice pounding to make mochi rice cakes was once a popular New Years activity, but many modern Japanese families buy them from supermarkets.


There are many "good luck" charms associated with the New Year. Cranes and turtles are symbols of longevity and happiness.

Houses are sometimes decorated with origami cranes to bring peace and happiness to the New Year.


Shinto is rooted in reverence for nature and its endless cycles of renewal. Although no sacred scriptures in the Western sense exist, three compendiums of records, rituals and prayers -- all completed between the eighth and 10th centuries -- comprise its basic tenets.

The central idea is that the world is populated by countless guardian spirits called "kamis," from which the religion derived its name.

Oshogatsu Eemonda

In Shinto, almost every living thing has a kami, as do such natural forms and forces as mountains, rivers, earthquakes and storms. So do groups of people, households, buildings, skills and professions, and commercial activities -- including car manufacturing.

Shinto Shrine
Shinto Shrine
Shinto Shrines

Shinto shrines, in fact, far outnumber Sony and Mitsubishi plants. An estimated 80,000 shrines, great and small, dot rural villages as well as every Japanese city.

The Grand Shrine of Ise in south central Honshu commemorates the sun goddess Amaterasu Omikami, considered the founder of the Japanese nation and ancestor of the emperor. Millions of Japanese make annual pilgrimages to Ise not only as acts of religious devotion but as expressions of patriotism and respect for the imperial family.

Japanese make pilgrimages to major Shinto shrines at important junctures in their lives.

Japanese Maneki Neko
Maneki Neko Fortune Cat

Turtle Charm
Turtle Charm

Mochi Rice
Oshogatsu Barbie Doll
Oshogatsu Barbie Doll

Origami Cranes Kit
Origami Cranes Kit

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