Although I only had a little over a week left in my one-month trip to Japan last December, it was finally New Year’s Eve. Since New Year’s is mostly a family holiday in Japan, we continued our time with my fiance’s family.
My fiance’s apartment was close to his parent’s house, and his older brother and his older brother’s wife were staying at the house, so when we visited it was quite crowded. We weren’t going to celebrate in the traditional way, because of the recent passing of a close relative, but we still gathered together and enjoyed some of the New Year’s traditions.
New Year’s Cleaning (お掃除)
Before the New Year, it is Japanese tradition to clean the house entirely, a tradition called お掃除 o-souji. The word souji means “cleaning” but the o before the word souji is specifically used for New Year’s cleaning. A couple days earlier we began o-souji at his parents house, and we also did the cleaning at my fiance’s apartment.
His mother took care of much of the actual cleaning of the house, but her daughter-in-law and myself both helped. Even his older brother helped a bit! We hung out the bedding (futon) and cleaned all the floors, washed the cars, and swept up the garden and front entrance to the house. We did most of the cleaning a few days before the New Year, but you want to make sure everything is cleaned out before the new year arrives!
O-souji is similar to spring cleaning in America. You clean out all the dust and dirt that accumulated over the past year so that you can start the new year fresh. Thus, you end the year with a clean house and you are ready to move forward with the new year and whatever it will bring.
New Year’s Noodles
On New Year’s Eve, we ate toshi-koshi soba (年越しそば) which is eaten on the last day of the year and is said to help to provide a clean start to the new year. The noodles are long but are easily cut by chewing, which represents a clean cutting off of the old year, and a new start to the new year. Toshi-koshi means “year-crossing” and soba is a type of buckwheat noodles.
We had nori (seaweed) flakes and tempura eggs (battered and deep-fried hard boiled eggs) with the soba. My fiance’s mother prepared the soba for us, but next year I will be preparing it! We also had more of the huge taiyaki (a pastry which is filled with something sweet – in this case, something like an apple pie) that we had received from my fiance’s family friends.
Have you celebrated New Year in Japan? What are your own country’s New Year’s traditions? Let me know in the comments!