[NOTE: This post was updated March 2018]
Here in the U.S., we think of ending the old year and starting the new one with a New Year’s Eve celebration. But in Japan, the tradition is very different.
My wife told me that in Japan, the tradition of welcoming the new year is drastically more peaceful and zen-like compared to the U.S.
For Japanese, the tradition is called 大掃除 “oosouji” meaning a big cleaning. During this cleanup time (which lasts until the end of the year), Japanese clean their homes and cars.
New Year is the biggest and most important holiday in Japan. It’s a way to start over, a fresh start. Japanese believe that New Year’s day represents how the rest of the year will be like. Thus, the day should be stress-free and everything should be clean.
Unlike the festive traditions involving fireworks and loud parties, Japanese enjoy a zen-like moment of peace. Monks in temples ring large bells (Joya-no-kane) 108 times throughout Japan signaling the end of the old year and the start of the new one. The bells are rung 108 times because, according to Buddhism, humans have 108 problem desires and by hearing the bells 108 times, we can rid ourselves of all these desires at the end of the year.
While waiting for the arrival of the new year, Japanese eat 年越し蕎麦 (としこしそば or toshikoshi soba), which means “end the old year and enter the new year soba noodles”. Toshikoshi soba (or buckwheat noodles) dates back to around the Edo period (17-19th century) and are believed to symbolize longevity.
Having spent a good portion of my life here in the U.S., I’m used to the loud fireworks and parties. However, I am starting a new tradition — a cleansing of the old and a more peaceful and zen-like beginning to the new.
I wish you a fresh start in the new year.
Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership + Talent Development Advisor
Itoh, M. (2008). Toshikoshi Soba or Year-End Soba: A bowl of hot soba noodles to end the year. Retrieved from http://www.justhungry.com/2003/12/toshikoshi_soba.html