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Japanese Holidays Update I

Wednesday, November 26, 2008 / Posted by Zackary /

To my great surprise they don’t celebrate Thanksgiving here. They do celebrate Independent Day with gusto. Wow you should see the futuristic fire works! Or, um maybe I am making that up.


In the Western World Christmas is often the main holiday of the year. Families gather, presents are opened, arguments break out, too much food is eaten, random hugging breaks out, and most people hope for at least some snow. I personally hope for nice big snowdrifts so heavy all you can see is the glorious snow. There are all kinds of advantages to not having a car.

Everyone goes to work in Japan and most people don’t celebrate at all. There are a few stores that have Christmas decorations but they are boring. If I see anything good I will take some pictures and put them up. Some people do talk about exchanging presents and the Japanese do love to shop. Many girls I have talked to think that Christmas is a great time to receive an expensive gift. Another time I will talk about shopping but for now let me say that finding luxury items in Japan is as easy as finding a McDonald’s.

Throughout Japan you will find Christian churches here and there. Two blocks behind my apartment is a decent sized Catholic Church. There are foreign missionaries from many different denominations walking the streets. Most of them seem to be wearing white shirts, ties, nondescript slacks and are just a bit to friendly. To be fair one of my friends here is a missionary and has a wonderful and relaxed demeanor. When we talk he is always kind and listens carefully.

New Years (shogatsu or oshogatsu)

This is the holiday that everyone gets excited about. If you haven’t seen your family throughout the year you see them during New Years.

They never use the world vacation, they always say holiday. This is confusing at first as people say, “I had a holiday yesterday and went to see my parents.” You worked yesterday and knew there was no national holiday. Also, I have problems getting anyone to say or understand what a weekend is in the American sense of the word. People say, “I worked on Saturday but had a holiday on Sunday.” I never knew how much I liked the word vacation until I came here. Tradition says that you should go to a temple within the first week of the New Year. When you go to the temple you pull hard on the cord to ring the bell twice. Then you donate yen to the temple, bow to the Buddha, and clap your hands twice. Temples use the money to keep afloat throughout the year. What Japanese people think while they are doing this I don’t know. I wish for peace and feel the solemn weight of time. In Japan most people visit their families and go to a temple together. For many families it is a time-honored tradition to visit the same temple each year.

Larger temples are open until Midnight and with long lines. Last year I waited for over an hour but it was worth it to bring the bell and clap twice. I don’t know why they clap twice or why I like it so much but it is great fun. Many temples ring a large bell at exactly midnight. The one I went collected donations to ring the big bell. There was a good mix of Western and Japanese people. Some people rang the bell with a gently touch while others flexed strong muscles and made the bell sound like thunder. Yes, the thunder people I saw were westerns. One guy looked liked a professional line backer and had arms of steel.

As I have mentioned explaining food is not my gift so I am pasting this information from
On New Year's eve, toshikoshi soba (buckwheat noodles), symbolizing longevity, are served.
Various kinds of special dishes are served during shogatsu. They include osechi ryori, otoso (sweetened rice wine) and ozoni (a soup with mochi).
(There are pictures but it won't let me post them. I will figure out the picture problem this weekend.)

You can buy expensive pre-made items like this although most people make them at home. Some people buy them to give as gifts. One of the business classes I taught told me about Oschi Ryori you can get at the store for over 10,000 yen ($100). After learning this I often reminded them of my address if they wanted to drop off a present.

Take care, ^^^^Z

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