Akemashite Omedetō Gozaimasu. (2023 is the Year of the Rabbit)
That’s how you say Happy New Year in Japan. But unlike in America where we start saying it near the end of the year, you can’t use this expression until the second the clock hits midnight. If you’re watching Japanese tv, then that’s the moment you’ll see the announcers bow and say this. Until this moment, what you can say is “Yoi otoshi o” which means Have a good year.
My first Oshōgatsu in Japan was in 1976. I was with my boyfriend and a group of Japanese people. Everyone was drinking. I think we were in Gion. It was a nigiyaka group and nobody noticed that the clock had struck midnight until about twenty minutes later. Quite different from what I was accustomed to.
My boyfriend had claimed that I’d have to move in with him during these holidays. He and my homestay program had claimed that nothing would be open for a week. I was living in a tiny room with no cooking facilities other than the ability to boil water. The shelf outside my window functioned as a reizōko. (The whole room could have done that since there was no heat.) The thing is, I didn’t believe that everything would be shut down. Maybe on January 1, but surely a few shops or gurosarii would open the next day.
Nowadays they do. But in Kyoto in 1976 every shop really was shuttered and had pieces of paper on it announcing closure until January 7th or even later. The shrines and temples were bustling but normal life had stopped. There was a reason why women were cooking boxes full of food. Would they really last seven days? Actually, no, but three days was definitely possible. I found that out in later years when I prepared the osechi ryōri myself. We’d be thoroughly sick of these boxes as they’d be brought out for all three meals, but we made it through snacking on osenbei and mikan.
Almost everyone would gather round to watch the NHK Kohaku Song Show. This year was the 73rd year of broadcasting it. I think it gets worse every year, but people my age are simply bound to say that. But the tradition of families gathering together to watch it as they did in years past seems likely to fade out. Still, though, it is some of the most incredible staging you’ll ever see. Check out Youtube for some clips. Or watch this as an example:
- Akemashite Omedetō Gozaimasu – 明けましておめでとうございます ”Happy New Year” or literally, “Congratulations on the opening [of the year]. Isn’t used until the clock strikes midnight and the new year arrives.
- Yoi otoshi o – 良いお年を ”Have a good year.” This is used at the end of December to people that you think you won’t see again until the next year arrives.
- Oshōgatsu – お正月 New Year’s
- nigiyaka – 賑やか lively, merry
- reizōko – 冷蔵庫 refrigerator
- gurosarii – グロサリー grocery store. There is a more Japanese word for this, but I think even this is old; so many shop at a suupaa now.
- osechi ryōri – お節料理 New Year’s food, aka “the boxes.” Google it.
- osenbei – お煎餅 rice crackers
- mikan – みかん Japanese tangerines. So so good!