Every last day of the year Japanese usually have a traditional celebration known as Omisoka. They indulge themselves in essential activities on new year’s eve. Misoka was the name used to mean the end of the month, so the people later changed it to the last day of the year as Omisoka. They also refer to the New Year’s eve night as Jo-ya night.
Most of their traditional ritual was done on Jo-ya night, mainly to remove all of last year’s evil spirits before the other year begins. On the Jo-ya night, Toshigami-sama god came down to visit. It became a tradition for people to stay up the whole night to wait for their god. In fact, it is still their custom to stay awake all night to welcome their god.
Today, people celebrate this night by visiting temples and shrines at midnight of Omisoka. They observe these ceremonies, but even others do not know the meaning or the origin of this day. At temples, the bells are rung at midnight on Omisoka day. Usually, the bells are rung 108 times from midnight of New Year’s day till morning.
It is believed while ringing the bell, the sins of the people are washed away, and they turn into new beings as New Year’s Day begins. Other things that are done to ensure they cleanse themselves properly include cleaning houses, paying their debts, bathing, and many other captivities.
Why is Omisoka Celebrated?
Omisoka is celebrated for many reasons. But the main core reason is for purification. Back in the early period of 794 to 1185, it was a day to pray to Toshigami-sama god to be in charge of the new year so that they could harvest more.
It was believed to be a day where everyone could focus on cleanliness and purification. It was believed that all the whole year, dirt would be cleaned after purification. So cleanliness becomes the custom even to the entire home. Every home would come together and make sure the whole house is clean, and they are purified to welcome the New Year with cleanness.
Furthermore, the family members have to come together and celebrate this day. The tables are usually filled with a lot of food to mark the celebration. Bowls of buckwheat noodles are served to the people around 11 p.m. This dish was referred to as Toshi Koshi soba. The people warm their hands then eat the soba. The coming together and eating soba is symbolic. The long noodles are served as a symbol of good health and long life as people cross over to the New Year. Even to the name of the dish served, Toshi Koshi means year crossing.
What are The Most Traditions That are Associated with Omisoka?
There are a lot of traditions that are associated with Omisoka. Typically, these traditions are accomplished while celebrating the Omisoka. They include:
Osoji means extensive cleaning. It is an activity to clean the entire house or home before getting to the other year. Almost every individual in japan usually observes this activity. It is this time that family members come together to celebrate. Moreover, it has other functions like creating strong bonds between family members.
2. Joya no Kane
The meaning of Joya no Kane in japan is the annual ringing of the symbolic bell on the last day of the year at every temple or shrine. It is one of Japan’s religions that is done, and it comes from Buddhism. Joya no Kane is observed by ringing the temple bells for 1 to 2 hours near midnight.
Of course, everyone hears the ringing of bells since almost every neighborhood in Japan has its temples. The bell rings a specific number of times before it stops. Normally, it rings 108 times. They believe a human being has 108 earthly desires that may lead them to do bad things. Ringing the bells means they are removing every earthly or wrong desire they pose.
This tradition enlightens the people to shun away from the bad things they have done the whole year. They are expected to enter the New Year with a renewed mind without any blemish.
To observe this tradition, you have to visit your local temple or shrines and join the queue. Visitors can be allowed to participate at a fee. Then the ceremony is done to purify all your uncleanness you have done through the year.
3. Iwai Bashi.
It refers to the chopsticks that are prepared, which have thinner ends. They are usually wrapped with decorative white and red paper. It is believed that the gods use one end while the people use the other end. It means that the gods and people are having a meal together.
When using these chopsticks, you are not supposed to flip them and take food on the opposite side. It is considered rude as you will be using the gods’ chopstick side.
4. Osechi Ryori.
It is a kind of food prepared for the New Year celebration. It is considered vital because it serves as well wishes for the new coming year. The Osechi Ryori means year crossing. It has to be celebrated or included in the celebration because it is also symbolic. Besides, it signifies good health, energy, and long life for the coming New Year.
It is another tradition that is observed. Otoshidama involves giving the children and old relatives monetary gifts. The gift is kept in a special envelope and then handed over to them. It is a symbol to bless them, to be people of value as they grow older. First, the Kagami mocha was given as a gift, but recently they started using money.
Typical of this are some of the activities done on Omisoka. Contrary to other countries, the Japanese have a unique way on how they celebrate this day.
What Does the Japanese do on Omisoka?
Omisoka is the last day of the year. Misoka means previous month, and the O means big. There are numerous customs during this day, such as Osoji, Toshikoshi-soba, and many more. Below is how the midnight is spent before the Japanese cross over to the New Year.
Each family member must observe the Toshikoshi-soba. It is a custom for the Japanese on the Omisoka night to eat soba noodles. People serve with these noodles to mean wishing extended living and cutting the unclean and bad luck.
It is a special kind of noodles which is coked during this day. You have to eat everything in your bowl, but if you attempt to leave some, then it is believed that you will be unlucky in the coming year in terms of money. Others also use Udon Noodle as a means of luck and good fortune in the coming year.
They also watch popular music such as Kohaku Uta Gassen on their televisions. The same night, they also have to visit temples or shrines nearby their neighborhood to observe other custom ceremonies still. Also, countdown parties are usually happening the same night, so others can attend and cross to the next year while celebrating.
The New Year decoration
There is a lot of traditional decoration which are done to mark the end of their celebration. Some of these decorations include:
It is a kind of decoration made of sacred Shinto rope called shimenawa with fens and white ritual paper called shide or dai. They do this to symbolize good luck from one generation to the other. It is also a symbolism of continuity in the family from age to age.
2. Kagami mocha
It is referred to as mirror rice cake tradition. Shinto rope is used and also placed in front of their door. It symbolism the ancient treasury left by their ancestor. It is another tradition observe during this time. It is a decoration made in a way that resembles a bronze mirror. It is done to representing the treasure left by the ancient Japanese. It also symbolizes the renewal of energy and light to start the New Year afresh.
It has two mocha discs that symbolize the coming and the going year. Then it has the yin and yang or the moon and the sun to represent the human heart. It is also placed in various places in the house as a small decoration. It is also placed at the Shinto altar.
It is another tradition that is observed during the eve of the New Year. A traditional decoration is done and placed in front of their home. This conventional is done to welcome their ancestral spirit to bless them the coming year.
This New Year decoration is made from pine or bamboo sprigs, and they are placed in pairs to represent males and females. These are meant to provide a temporary dwelling place for their gods. In the middle of January, they are burned to appease and release their gods.
It is bad luck or omen if you put up decoration on December 31 because it is considered last minutes and it will bring you back bad. You are supposed to start the preparation on December 28 to have ample time to celebrate this day.
Other Activities that Take Place on Omisoka
Other things are done to conclude the year so that they can start the New Year afresh. Some of these activities include;
- House cleaning
- Purification to drive away from the evil spirit.
- Paying your debt.
- Gathering for a part
Spending the last moments in Japan at the end of the year is such a welcoming and rewarding experience in one way or the other. With their Omisoka, various customs are conducted, which are fun. Omisoka is a custom that offers the people an opportunity to reconcile and reset from their uncleanness.
Furthermore, all of the family members and relatives spend the last moment renewing themselves so that they can be pure in the new year. It also allows you to look forward to another blessed year that is ahead of you. If you plan to spend the last moments of the year in Japan, you will see many of these customs being done.