On New Year’s night, thousands of Malaysians will throng the streets to party and celebrate the coming of the New Year.
Big corporate entities – and even a few government agencies – will be falling over each other to provide entertainment for the masses for the occasion (it’s CSR, lah*). Fireworks are a must. Concerts? Well…in Malaysia, it goes almost without saying.
Once the fireworks go quite, and after the last artist has belted out his last song, the entertained crowd will slowly head home. Tired and sleepy, no doubt. But hugely satisfied with the value-for-money (read: free) entertainment.
But after that, what?
I’m afraid, when it comes to welcoming the New Year, there is nothing much meaningful to it, for us Malaysians. It just comes and goes. Apart from the public holiday to look forward to on the day itself, it’s back to the usual daily grind after that. Nothing much will have changed.
But then, who am I to question these great celebratory events, which will be graced by no less than some of the top leaders of the nation and corporate big wigs?
So, let me just play safe. Let me take this opportunity to tell you something about Japanese New Year celebration instead.
The Japanese New Year is called oshogatsu in Japanese. Its date used to be determined based on the lunar year calendar. But the Japanese, being an adaptive lot, adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1873. So since then, the first day of January is the official New Year's Day.
The shogatsu is without a doubt the most important holiday in Japan. This is when the Japanese really take a break, rest and celebrate the holiday with the family. It is a day for eating and drinking together with the family, at home.
One thing I like about the Japanese New Year cards is that they are usually simple in design, and yet do the job just nicely. It’s a contrast to our normal greeting cards, which has a riot of colours and cluttered designs.
Some Japanese proudly make their own cards. But, being ever busy with university assignments (no sniggering, now!) I used to buy mine off the shelf at stationeries. Sometimes (well, most of the time actually), I would buy them at the post office where it’s much, much cheaper.
Like many other Asian New Year traditions, Japanese adults also give money to children on this auspices day. Akin to our ‘duit raya’ and ‘ang pow’, in Japan it is called ‘otoshi-dama’ which means ‘new year treasure’.
The New Year’s season lasts well over a week in Japan. Most of the shops will be closed. So if you do not do your shopping and stock up before the holidays, then you would find yourself in the unenviable situation of having nothing to cook for week! In Japan, for a family of five like mine, the costs would be enough to run me bankrupt.
But we take the cue from the highly-organised Japanese and take to the stores with a shopping list in hand a week before to buy enough items to last a week of cooking.
As for the New Year day itself, we’d stay at home eating mee-curry or spaghetti made by Mem Besar. To avoid the wintry cold outside, we’d be huddled in front of the television all day long, in the warmth of our small, but comfortable University family accommodation at Ichinoya Gakusei Shukusha.
But if it was snowing, then you won't find me at home. Instead, I would be frolicking in the snow with Sakinah, Syafiq and Anas somewhere in one of the parks in Tsukuba. Aahhh, such nice memories.
Wishing everybody lots of Happiness and Joy. Blessings for the New Year 2008.
And to all Japanese friends, Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu!
Note: * CSR – corporate social responsibility