The end of the year and the beginning of the new year ~Christmas and New Year’s day in Japan~

仏教(ぶっきょう): Buddhism

Japanese article is here;

What is “年末年始(Nenmatsu-nenshi)”?

Hello, this is MIKA!

Now it’s already the end of this year, and have you finished a ready for Christmas?

By the way, the word “Nenmatsu-nenshi” means “The end of the year and the beginning of the new year” in Japanese. In other words, it’s around 26th December to 3rd January.

In Japan, new year holidays are also important, that’s why there are some shops, super markets, facilities, clinics and others which have been closed during “Nenmatsu-nenshi”; be careful!!

Anyway, something to do in December is different by each countries and areas. Of course, the countries which Christianity is not the state religion don’t celebrate Christmas.

However, even Christianity is not the state religion, we have to be ready for not only Christmas but also the new year holidays in Japan!!

Christmas in Japan

The history of Japan and Christianity

It was 16th century that Christianity had come to Japan at first.

The start of Christmas in Japan was the mass which had been hold by Francisco de Xavier, one of the missionaries of society of jesus. However, Christians had been clamped down at that time, that’s why Christmas had been celebrated quietly by only the underground Christians.

After that, finally Christmas had been known by many people in Meiji era【1868~1912】. But during WW2, Christmas had been disappeared again.

And after the war, in 1950, Christmas has fulfilled the second revival.

Japanese Christmas

In Japan, the families which decolate their home with Christmas tree and wreath has been increasing.

Also, the night town is brilliant by illuminations. And how surprising, there are some people who decolate their home with an illumination!

In Christmas eve and Cristmas, we gather with our each families or friends to enjoy a party and give and receive a present each other. And needless to say, lovers are going to go to a romantic date.

And children sleep looking forward to the present by Santa Claus.

However, they will recognize the fact Santa is their parents by some reasons. I half-doubted it when I was a child, and I found the truth at 12 years old because my mother has the letter written by me for Santa.

Although we know the story that Santa Claus rides a sleigh which is pulled his reindeers to give presents for children and the song “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”, “Jingle Bells” and so on, there is a few Japanese who knows the original meaning of Christmas…

So, why do Japanese celebrate Christmas? The answer is because Japanese just love a festival!!

The end of the year in Japan

Ready for “Oseibo”, the present of the end of the year

First, we prepare for “Oseibo”, the present which we send to someones who have taken care of us. We choose and wrap it with “Noshi”, Japanese special paper for a gift like a photo with an appreciation and an intention to keep our relationship well.

In general, we send “Oseibo” from 13th to 20th December for our relatives, familiar friends and customers. And contents are very variety; snacks or sweets, sake or beer or wine, a ham and so on.

However, please be careful because there are some taboos not to send as “Oseibo”!

For example, gift certificates and a cash, under wears and sox are the rude presents to look down on someone who receive these presents.

Next, cutting or edge tool, and a handkerchief are bad, too. Because the old name of a handkerchief was “Shukin”, it let us image “Cutting conections”. Cutting or edge tool have a same reason.

Finally, a comb is also wrong as “Oseibo”. Because it’s called “Kushi” in Japanese; “Ku” means “a pain”, and “Shi” means “a death”.

Ready for “Osechi ryori” and “Ozouni”


Then, after Christmas, we have to ready for the new year holidays!!

The consecutive holidays from 1st to 3rd January are called “Sanganichi” in Japan, and we take “Osechi-ryori” during “Sanganichi”; that’s why we need to reserve “Osechi-ryori” or buy foodstuffs for that.

In addition, because we take “Ozouni”, a soup with a rice cake for new year holidays with “Osechi-ryori”, we also need foodstuffs for that.

The shape of a rice cake, the taste, and foodstuffs of “Ozoni” are different from the areas, so take each “Ozoni” is interesting!

Ready to decolate and a general cleaning


And, we have to tidy up Christmas tree and wreath to put new year’s decolations. Also it’s an important mission to clean up our house perfectlly.

For more information about that, please read this article.

Ready for “Nenga-jou”, a new year’s greeting card

“Nenga-jou” is a greeting card to say “Happy New Year” to send someones who have taken care of us, who have been friendly for a long time, and our relatives.

Young generations tend to make do it on-line, but I want it no to be disused.

If you are in Japan and want to send “Nenga-jou” for someones, put them into a post until Christmas, 25th December to reach them at each addresses on the New Year’s Day, 1st January.

Additionally, the “Eto” of 2023 is a rabit, that’s why a big rabit is written at the center of “Nenga-jou”. “Eto” changes every year, so “Eto” of 2024 is a dragon.

To know about “Eto”, please read this article.

Ready for “Otoshi-dama”, New Year’s gift

“Otoshi-dama” is a pocket money for New Year Holidays to give for their own children, nephews and nieces. It’s no exaggeration to say that “Otoshi-dama” is the best pleasure for children.

The origin of “Otoshi-dama” is “Kagami-mochi” with the spirits of the ancestors as “Toshigami-sama”, one of Japanese Gods.

A long time ago, people offered “Kagami-mochi”, a double rice cakes with a mandarine orange. After that, they shared it with children and adults.

Because there is the spirits of the ancestors, we call it “御年魂(Otoshi-dama)” at first; however, now it’s called “お年玉(Otoshi-dama)”.

*「御(O)」is put to make it politer, 「年(Toshi)」is “a year”, and 「魂(Dama)」is “a spirit”.

It’s in the later term of Showa era【Around 1955~1972】which we give a pocket money for children instead of a rice cake.

The ways to spend a time on 31st December, New Year’s Eve

31st December, the last day of a year; we call it “Oo-misoka”. Because “Misoka” means the last day of a month, we call it “Oo-misoka”.

By the way, there is a custom to take “Toshi-koshi soba”, the soba for New Year’s Eve.

Then, why do we take a soba?

There are some opinions, but two of them are mainly believed;

First one is to wish a long life like a soba noodle, and second one is to cut and remove this year’s bad luck like a soba, because it’s easy to cut a soba noodle.

In addition, in the night of New Year’s Eve, the special TV show named “Kouhaku-utagassen” for the hit songs of that year by separating men-group and weman-group to announce each other and compete an evaluation is broadcasted by NHK, one of the television stations in Japan.

“Joya-no-kane”, Bells on New Year’s Eve at a temple

And then, around 11 p.m. of New Year’s Eve to 1 a.m. of New Year’s Day, we hear the sound of “Joya-no-kane”, Bell on New Year’s Eve from the temple close to our home.

“Joya-no-kane” is the big bell to strike on New Year’s Eve because we can remove 108 “Bonnou”, the foolish desires of Buddhism from our mind by doing that.

Not only Buddhist priests, but also general persons can strike it at some temples, so if you are interested in that, please check it in advance.

“Hatsu-moude”, the first visiting at a shrine or a temple

Finally I’ll tell you about “Hatsu-moude”.

“Hatsu-moude” is the visiting at a shrine or a temple to greet for Japanese Gods or Buddha at the first time of the new year. For more information, please read this article.

Of course it’s OK to go there after a sunrise, but some people go there in the night of New Year’s Eve and stay to wait the moment the new year will have come even it’s too cold.

Final comment ~The greetings of the end of the year~

How was it?

Because Japanese people love a fistival, so we want to enjoy either Christmas and New Year’s Holiday; that’s why we’re too busy because of many things to do every December!

However, we also enjoy it as one of feature of the winter.

By the way, the Buddhist priest of the illustration is saying 「良(よ)いお年(とし)をお迎(むか)えくださいませ!」, it’s one of the greetings for the end of the year instead of good-bye and it means “Have a nice new year!”

And we omit it and often say 「良(よ)いお年(とし)を!」; I recommend you to remember that.

Also we have other greetings「今年(ことし)もお世話(せわ)になりました」, “Thank you very much also for this year” and

「来年(らいねん)もよろしくお願(ねが)いします」, it means “Let’s keep our relationship better also in the next year”.

So, it’s a bit early to say,

「皆(みな)さん、今年もお世話になりました! 良いお年をお迎えください、そして来年もよろしくお願いします!!」