Ringing in the Year of the Dragon- Japanese Style

The Year of the Dragon roared in to Japan hailed by a 7.0 earthquake. Somebody`s a drama queen. In spite of that auspicious entry, I think I speak for all Japan residents when I say we are happy to see the fluffy bobbed tail of  2011, the Year of Rabbit, hopping off in to the sunset.

SO- the New Year in Japan.

The Japanese are great adopters of best practices from other cultures including holidays, however, New Year`s feels authentic. Japan rings in the Year of the Dragon ahead of the other Asian countries not following the Gregorian calendar. Unlike our native country, the New Year celebration extends well beyond a midnight toast followed by a television marathon on January 1st.

On January 1, Tokyo rolls up the blinds, turns out the lights, and closes completely until January 3rd as the citizens living in the biggest city in the world celebrate customs started centuries ago. Nothing is open. Last year I contemplated stealing food from the neighbors to last until the grocery stores re-opened. I learned my lesson and stocked 5 days worth of food on Dec. 31st. Flashlights included. New Year`s is absolute in its power to close the city.

Kick started at midnight on Dec 31, thousands of Japanese visit a local shrine to pray for the upcoming year. Last year I realized exaactly how many people live in Japan as we all visited Meiji Shrine. Although cold, I was all toasty mashed in with 8,000 of my human blankets. This year I opted to let TokyoBlingBlog tell the story -See pictures here.

Midnight is marked by the ringing of the temple bell 108 times-one toll for 108 worldly desires. The Buddhists made a more exhaustive list than the mere 10 we Christians recognize.

The Japan TImes, 1/1/12 Kyodo Image

Tori Gate to Meiji Shrine ( The Nose poses for scale)

Decorations particular to the New Year pop up like Dandelions. Kadomatsu park in pairs outside businesses. All have three bamboo rods representing Heaven, Humanity and Earth- each of different lengths and all must touch the ground. Pine, the symbol of long life, along with umi tree sprigs are often included. These become temporary homes to the kami, or spirits, of the harvest who bless the home or business owner with a good harvest.

Many New Year`s decorations also contain Gohei- streamers of color that mark a sacred place or purify negative energy. I wonder how they work on teenagers.

The lobster represents longevity and endurance

A renegade with 4 Bamboo trunks

The kadomatsu are burned at the conclusion of the New Year`s celebration to release the kami. Nothing like smoke to clear out the house.

Last year the Clampitts sampled the traditional New Year`s lunch- osechi ryori. The meal is contained in several boxes each stacked on the other. In the old days, New Year`s was the only time women got a full break from work. Samplings were made over several days by female members of the family and stored. Hence, the contents are dried, pickled or stay fresh for several days without refrigeration.

A particular individual who will go unnamed but is the first of my two Offspring called the meal “O retchy ryori, ” and begged for turkey and dressing this year.

One of the traditional snacks ultimately leading to a Clampitt feeding frenzy is the rice crackers.

The Seven Lucky Gods of Japan in Rice Crackers

A peanut head with rice cracker body. Tastes like crunch soy sauce.

This was billed as a special New Year`s mochi dessert- kyani- with bitter orange topping.

Mochi is made from rice and has a chewy consistency which I prefer to eat surrounding ice cream.  When I finally broke in to the package, it looked, and tasted, like wax. I have several more to crack before I declare an official position on the taste. Hopefully one of my Japanese friends will tell me if these are, in fact, edible.

All the children in Japan – and our nieces and nephews- look forward to these.


Otoshidama- money envelopes. In Japan, money exchanged for gifts or between people is usually done in an envelope and rarely are bills passed between individuals as it is considered rude. I`ll still take money with or without the envelope. Our nieces and nephews think these are more like cards to be given in a deck. Of course with money in all.

And finally, New Year`s is about “firsts.”

Hatsunode- the first sunrise. Mount Fuji looks like an ant hill during New Year`s as thousands of people climb to the summit to witness the first sunrise of the New Year.

Hatsumode- the first trip to the temple.

Even Hatsu-uri- the first shopping trip of the year. Hatsu-uri is particularly appealing therefore I plan on making it a part of the my New Year ritual.

I hope all of you have a wonderful and Happy New Year.

Yoi otoshi o omukae kudasai.

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38 Responses to Ringing in the Year of the Dragon- Japanese Style

  1. A Happy New Year to you and yours Emily! Thank you for a wonderful culture lesson!!


  2. Hmm–that first Kadomatsu looks a bit dragon-like.

    And 108 desires? Are these akin to the 7 Deadly Sins? I didn’t know we had 10 of anything as Christians. I clearly need to get right with God and learn how to count!

    Happy New Year, my friend——–



  3. andy1076 says:

    Happy New Year! i’m super excited about the year of the dragon, i’m a dragon and it’s been a while since i had a great reason to celebrate! more importantly though? a great reason for Mochi! yum! :9


  4. Dana says:

    Happy New Year, Emily! I’m totally loving those Lucky Gods rice crackers. I love rice crackers even without any pretty packaging, so seeing them dressed up like gods is a slice of heaven for me! 🙂


  5. Unless the mochi is really fresh, like just out of the machine or mortar, I find it’s kind of waxy and not particularly tasty either. You might try putting it in a toaster oven and baking or broiling it a bit, just enough to soften it and toast the top. Then sprinkle over it brown sugar or kinako, soy bean flour, and eat it. Or you can cook it in broth and make ozoni, mochi soup, with it. Just be careful when you eat it, because once it’s really soft, it’s gummy and can choke you, talk about retching, lol.

    Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu! Happy New Year!


    • AHH! That`s how it`s done. We actually had some of the gooey mochi at a traditional New Year celebration held at a friend`s house. Now I see how it`s a choking hazard! Thanks for the how to!
      Happy New Year HG!


    • Leah says:

      Concurred! I also make the ozoni from Just Hungry every year with toasted mochi. You can do it in the fish grill on your gas range, too–just be sure to watch it. Toasted mochi is great in zenzai, too.



  6. The nose says:

    Happy New Year to ya’ll too! My offspring loved their envelopes and yours especially. You see, at our house they are only allowed to keep a certain amount of their holiday booty- and yours being first, well, translates almost as if it is the only money they have to spend. Again, placing you in a favored position!!!! Especially since accompanied by Japanese butter cookies! Miss you!!


  7. O retchy ryori….that’s a great name for it, looks okay, but I hate dried or pickled stuff. Nice to hear of the traditions the country has. I like the idea of “firsts” – Something I don’t think about much, I was certainly not awake to witness my first sunrise of the year. Sunrises are like the enemy to vampiric folk like me who prefer Sunsets 😉

    Happy New Year my dear. Hope you haven’t go any more earthquakes over there!


  8. Ashley says:

    Happy New Year! Lol, the bell ringing 108 times, we live near a temple and though this year baby keeps us up normally past midnight, last year we were trying to sleep wondering why we were even bothering to as it kept going, and going…

    I’m surprised nothing is open in Tokyo though, as in our small little town even most of the grocery stores stay open, and we went to a bigger city today for shopping and it was crazy busy (all the New Year’s sales…) We were even surprised the secondhand stores around us were open on the 1st. More places open this year than when I first arrived 3 or something years ago… Even ATMs, which were/are often closed or run out of money, seemed to be fine. Not sure what changed lol.

    lol re: your shrine comment. I remember my first hatsumode and how ridiculously packed it was. Haven’t done anything like it since…


    • Hey- can you send me over some milk? It is a ghost town here in the middle of Shibuya! Holy Smokes. BUT- I`m headed out in a little to see if any Happy Bags are left. I know many of the stores did them yesterday so I bet none of the good ones are left.
      Happy New Year Ashley! Love those pics of your angel on FB…


  9. Tar-Buns says:

    I remember going to the shrines and drinking sake out of the little wooden bowls/boxes. It was quite festive but cold.
    How long will you stay in Japan, do you know? Enjoy the time you have – my two years went quite fast in retrospect.
    Happy New Year!


  10. Posky says:

    It’s the year of the dragon again?

    People definitely seemed stoked here in New York. Now I know why.


  11. I had the same thought about the 7 Deadly Sins that Kathryn had . . . Not sure if I’d call some of the 10 Commandments “wordly desires”. The Buddhists can really think up that many???

    Best wishes for the year ahead for you and your family. May this be the year you master the Japanese language!


    • I`ll need divine intervention on that for sure! I can say just about whatever I want- but- am clueless when people talk back to me. Hopefully that has no karmic (??) messaging….

      Have a great New Year Lisa!


  12. Lu says:

    Happy New Year!
    So ‘ole Bob-tail is off and Dragon is in… One can only hope it is an improvement for everyone in Japan…
    Hope you have a fantastic year 🙂


  13. jacquelincangro says:

    This was so fascinating, Emily. I’m with you on the mochi. I’d probably pass.
    I wasn’t clear on something: Do the Japanese people celebrate the lunar new year the way they do in China? Or do they ring in the year of the dragon when the calendar changes to January 1?


    • Hey J- no, the Japanese celebrate the Gregorian calendar and therefore ring in the New Years on Jan 1 whereas the other Asian countries celebrate New Years according to the traditional one which means it`s later….

      Have a great New Year!


  14. Hello and Happy New Year – Nice to meet you and I already excited to read more about you and your blog ^^


  15. Olga 0207 says:

    Have a happy year, Emily!


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