K-12 Outreach for Japanese Culture: 1月 / January

This guide is designed for K to 12 instructors who teach Japanese culture and traditions.

お正月 / Oshogatsu (New Years)




おせち料理は、お節句の略で、新年の豊作、武家の祝い膳、庶民の料理が混ざった正月料理です。三が日は家事から開放されるという意 味もあり、保存の効く材料が中心です。また、正月には火を使うことを避けるという警めという意味も含まれています。代表的なお節の 詰め物は、黒豆、数の子、伊達巻、くりきんとん、魚やエビの焼き物、野菜の煮物などです。

  • 歳神様とは?


January used to be the month to welcome the spirit of fertility called Toshigami-sama. Today, the period between January 1st to 3rd is called Sangan-nichi. The period between January 1st to 7th is called Matsu no Uchi or Matsu Nanoka, and the first week of January is called Shōgatsu.

On January 1st, many people visit shrines and temples to make a wish for the New Year, this is called hatsumōdeOzōni and osechi are typical dishes that people have during the New Year’s Day. This tradition dates back to the Edo period (1603-1868).

Ozōni originated from nimaze, which is a soup made of different ingredients with mochi or sticky rice cakes inside, similar to what ozōni is today. The reason for eating ozōni is to celebrate and appreciate the great harvest and the health of the family. This custom began around Muromachi period (1337-1573).

Osechi ryōri, also a traditional new year’s food, is an abbreviation for osekku. It too celebrates and wishes for a great harvest for the upcoming year. Osechi ryōri is a mixture of dishes from samurai warriors’ celebratory dishes and commoner's dishes. Osechi is meant to be a meal that would last without spoiling. People intentionally would eat dishes that would not spoil fast because during the first three days, it is traditional for people to not do any household chores. These dishes also deliberately avoids the use of fire for cautionary purposes during the New Year’s week. Typical food in the osechi includes: sweet black beans, herring roes, datemaki (a fish omelet rolled up and cut into slices), kuri-kinton (mushed sweet potato with sweetened chestnuts), cooked shellfish or fish, and cooked vegetables.

  • What is Toshigami-sama?

Toshigami is the harvest god or the spirits of ancestors that visits the family in the beginning of the year. Toshigami brings abundance of harvest and health and happiness to families.

初詣 / Hatsumōde

お雑煮 / Ozōni (mochi in the bottom of the soup)

お雑煮 / Osechi

歌会始 / Utakai-Hajime

歌会始 (Utakai-hajime) is held at the Tokyo Imperial Palace on January 1st and is hosted by the Emperor of Japan. Each year, it is broadcasted on NHK, the national television network. Each year, there is a theme presented beforehand, and the Emperor reads several short poetry written by the general public.

Ceremony of the Utakai-hajime around 1950

More about Japanese New Years

The video shows some examples of traditional activities done during the New Years. The video is by the Japanese Cultural Society in Maui.

お正月と和菓子 / Oshogatsu to Wagashi (New Years and Sweets)


During New Years, many wagashi (Japanese confectionery) are made and inspired by kotobuki or celebration. Therefore, many wagashi around this time uses this motifs to symbolize the felicitation of the New Year. Common wagashi for New Year are: hanabira-mochi (pink mochi and a paste made of burdock root and white miso bean paste, inspired by flower petals), eto-gashi (zodiac motif confectionery), odai-gashi (confectionery inspired by the New Year’s imperial poetry ceremony), shō-chiku-bai (pine, bamboo, and palm tree inspired confectioneries), and tsuru-kame (crane and tortoise inspired confectioneries). These motifs are all symbols of good omen for the upcoming year.

花びら餅 / Hanabira-mochi

午年の干支菓子 /  Eto-gashi from the Year of the Horse

お正月の和菓子 / Various wagashi inspired by the New Years
(all of the wagashis in this picture is made from sweet colored rice powder)

梅の和菓子 / Wagashi inspired by the ume flower

お正月の歌 / Oshogatsu no Uta (New Year's Song)

もういくつ寝るとお正月 (Mo ikutsu neruto oshogatsu)

お正月には凧上げて (Oshogatsu ni ha tako agete)

駒を回して遊びましょう (Koma wo mawashite asobimasho)

早く来い来いお正月 (Hayaku koi koi oshogatsu)


もういくつ寝るとお正月 (Mo ikutsu neruto oshogatsu)

お正月には毬突いて (Oshogatsu ni ha mari tsuite)

追羽根突いて遊びましょう (Oibane tsuite asobimasho)

早く来い来いお正月 (Hayaku koi koi oshogatsu)


How many more sleeps until New Years?

On New Years, we will fly a kite

And let's play by spinning tops

Near Years, come, come quickly


How many more sleeps until New Years?

On New Years, we will dribble a mari (embroidered ball)

And let's play with oibane (game similar to badminton)

New Years, come, come quickly

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