What: Japanese New Year

When: December 29th - January 3rd

About: Shogatsu is when the toshigami, or diety of the incoming year, is welcomed.


Shogatsu, the Japanese New Year, is the largest and most important holiday of the year, an equivalent to Christmas in the West. The holiday welcomes toshigami, the deity of the incoming year. The dawning of the New Year is normally met in silence, either by people paying their respects and watching from a hill or by people, exhausted from the many preparations for the day, fast asleep.

Preparations are extensive for the holiday. The home is cleaned from top to bottom, people wear new clothes, and a variety of new year dishes are served, such as the zomi (soup) and food served in jubako, or special boxes for the holiday. Children are given money in envelopes, called otoshidama which traditionally meant the spirit the head of the family received from the toshigami. New Year’s Cards are sent out much like Western Christmas Cards, and close to four billion a year are mailed. In the home, pink and white rice mochi are offered to ancestors at the Buddhist altar or before the Shinto ancestral tablets.


With the change from the Lunar Calendar to the western calender in Japan in 1874 came some issues in regards to New Year. The Lunar New Year traditionally fell on the new moon after the sun enters Aquarius, making it quite a different date than it is currently. Instead of being near the Winter Solstice, as it is now, it was once near the Spring Equinox.

Additionally, the festival nanakusa, which was traditionally scheduled to be the first day of the first month, was moved to the seventh day of the first month so it would not coincide with New Year.