Friday, December 28, 2007

Happy New Year 2008: Lets go Japanese?

Nengajo: Japanese New Year Cards

Its end of December, and another New Year beckons.

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.

On the eve of New Year the Japanese will visit shrines to pray and pay respect to their ancestors. The New Year itself usually starts with whole family having traditional food, such as the ‘mochi’ (rice cake) for breakfast, in front of the television set which usually features traditional performing arts of Japan.

Then they would read the New Year greeting cards, or nengajō, that they have received. Before that, they will have sent cards to their own friends, relatives, work mates and bosses. The cards are sent so that they reach their recipients on 1st of January. And the ever-efficient Japan postal service duly oblige by taking extra special care during this time of the year to ensure all cards are delivered on January 1.

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


Mohd Adib Noh said...

Thanks for sharing your New Year experience in Japan.Btw,I love Japanese design of paper product for its simplicity.IMHO,simplicity is a beauty on its own right.

~The Reader

Azizi Ahmad Termizi: said...

Sdr Adib

Yes indeed, the Japanese know a thing or two about simplicity in design. Just look at the designs of Japanese gardens, ikebana (flower arrangement) and the ryokan (traditional Japanese hotels). Simple yet all in good taste -- some call it minimalist design?

Thanks for your comments, sir.

AO said...

happy new year to you and family. semoga dipermudahkan hidup dunia dan akhirat.

Azizi Ahmad Termizi: said...

Thank you AO.

Happy new year to you and family too. Thanks also for visiting the blog. Pls be on the look out for new postings -- especially when Man United gets the thrashing :-)

Tanaka said...

Dear Azizi-san

I read your article about Japanese new year on your blog. I think your article is excellent. But I have some opinion about shopping for New Year's Holiday.

These days, many stores come to be open on the New Year's Day. Some super markets(such as JUSCO) are open on New Year's day as a regular business, and begin New Year's sale, called 'HATSU-URI', from the next day of the New year's day.

By the way, the Japanese traditional celemony for the end of New Year's season was held last evening. The date, name, and what to do depend on district, in most case, people visit shrine to burn New Year's decorations(such as 'KADOMATSU', 'SHIME-KAZARI') , talismans of last year, calligraphies which was made at the beginning of the year, and so on. Some men visit shrine, wearing nothing but a traditional underwear like what SUMO-wrestlers wears ('FUNDOSHI'), in other words, almost naked, to pray his(mostly including his family) health and happiness. In SENDAI my home city, the celemony is called 'DONTO-SAI'.

Yester day was the coldest day in this winter, so I did'nt go DONTO-SAI, and just watched it on TV...

Bye for now and, though a little too late, A Happy New Year. I wih your health and good luck in this year.

tanaka said...

Dear Azizi-san
Now I’m going to write a correction on my article about ‘DONTO-SAI’.
To visit shrine with only ‘FUNDOSHI’ is not orthodox. It is regarded as impolite style to Gods. So people have to wear short pants made by cotton and wrap their stomach with a long and narrow cotton piece like a bandage(it is called ‘SARASHI’). Then they visit shrine, with a bell in right hand and a Japanese lantern in left hand, having a small piece of paper in mouth not to speak. It is traditionally orthodox style of ‘HADAKA-MAIRI’. There are some other rules in detail.
Next, I’d like to tell you more about ‘HATSU-URI’. I guess HATSU-URI is something like ‘boxing-day sale’ as you say. People buy ‘FUKU-BUKURO’ on HATSU-URI. In FUKUBUKURO, there are many good items. But we can’t see what are in each bag. So we might be disappointed when open the bag. It seems like some kind of lottery. In SENDAI, Tea boxes made of woods are often used instead of paper bag. HATSU-URI of SENDAI has been famous for its luxurious premium. The luxurious premium is limited in the national rule for fare business, but in SENDAI HATSU-URI, it has been allowed because of its long history(it is said that it have more than 300 years history).

Azizi Ahmad Termizi: said...


Thank you so much for your explanation on 'DONTO-SAI’. It is one thing which I did not experience personally myself (I said, during new year my family and I would just stay indoor to watch television - it's cold outside!).

Regarding ‘HATSU-URI’, yes, it's quite similar to 'boxing day' in the west. But I didn't know that Sendai ‘HATSU-URI’ has its own long (300 yrs!) history. Before this, Sendai to me is just another town in Japan which has quite a famous university, the Sendai Daigaku.

Thank you Tanaka-san.