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Celebrating the New Year in Japan

3 girls in kimonos

Eve Corbett (L) in a kimono and traditional Japanese hairstyle, celebrating the New Year with her host sisters at a Japanese shrine.

By Eve Corbett ’17

In The United States the New Year is a time of new beginnings, partying, and lists of resolutions that are frequently abandoned just a couple days into the year. What is it like in Japan? Well actually all that I said above remains true here in the Land of The Rising Sun. Partying does indeed go down and resolutions are certainly written, but even still there are some differences in the celebration of the American and the Japanese New Year. In Japan Christmas decorations are taken down the day after Christmas and replaced with New Years decorations. The wreath on the door is removed, and the okazari (Japanese New Year’s door decoration) hung up. That is the beginning of the Japanese New year preparations.

Preparing for the New Year starts long before the current one even comes to a close. It was many days out from New Years and I was over at my grandparents’ house helping my family make mochi. Mochi are a special type of dumpling made entirely from rice. The rice is steamed and then, traditionally, pounded with a mallet until it turns into a sticky dough. Of course nowadays Japanese people can purchase a mechanical mochi-maker that saves a whole lot of time and mallet swinging. Once the dough is the right consistency it is pulled apart into smaller pieces and rolled by hand into a smooth, circular blob. Basically the idea is to make it look like the moon, ideally with no wrinkles. We used rice flour on our hands so that the mochi wouldn’t stick to them so much, although it still did quite a bit. Eventually I improved enough to proudly say that I have become a fairly decent mochi-maker. Read more

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