Because of its location, I’m in Little Tokyo as much as I’m seen wandering around the Arts District. I love going there because, even with recent gentrification happening there as well, you still find traditional Japanese art and culture alive and thriving.
Coming soon is Little Tokyo’s celebration of the New Year on Wednesday, January 1, 2014, now in its 15th year. Hosted by the Japanese Chamber of Commerce of Southern California, the Oshogatsu (Japanese New Year) Festival is a FREE community event that offers traditional food, martial arts demonstrations, taiko drumming, arts and crafts, dance performances, and this year, even a kimono fashion show!
OPENING CEREMONY – 11:00 AM to 11:30 AM
123 Astronaut E. S. Onizuka St.
Los Angeles 90012
FESTIVITIES – 11:00 AM to 3:00 PM
Japanese Village Plaza
335 E. 2nd St.
Los Angeles 90012
Scroll down to read more about this annual celebration, plus information on Japanese foods and other “first” traditions surrounding the New Year:
Oshogatsu (New Year; literally means “new month”) is one of the most important celebrations of the year in Japan. It is a festive occasion that evolved from rituals associated with the changes of season, which is important to Japanese farming. In Japan, events begin on New Year’s Eve (called “Omisoka”) with the tradition of striking the Joya no kane (Joya means “New Year’s Eve” and kane means “bell”) shrine bell at Buddhist temples. There are 108 strikes representing 108 bonno (human sins or worldly concerns in Buddhist belief); each toll symbolizes leaving each bonno from the old year behind. During this ceremony, reverberations from the preceding toll must dissipate before the next strike occurs. The last peal of the bell is struck at midnight, coinciding with the first few seconds of the New Year; signifying a new beginning, enabling the start of a prosperous and joyous year. After the bells finish ringing, the ritual is to feast on soba noodles to celebrate.
TRADITIONAL FOODS: In addition to soba noodles, other foods enjoyed during the Japanese New Year celebration include osechi-ryōri typically shortened to osechi. This consists of boiled seaweed (konbu), fish cakes (kamaboko), mashed sweet potato with chestnut (kurikinton), simmered burdock root (kinpira gobō), and sweetened black soybeans (kuromame). Many of these dishes are sweet, sour, or dried, so they can keep without refrigeration — the culinary traditions date to a time before households had refrigerators and now when most stores closed for the holidays. There are many variations of osechi, and some foods eaten in one region are not eaten in other places (or are considered unfortunate or even banned) on New Year’s Day. Another popular dish is ozōni, a soup with mochi rice cake and other ingredients that differ based on various regions of Japan. Today, sashimi and sushi are often eaten, as well as non-Japanese foods. To let the overworked stomach rest, seven-herb rice soup (nanakusa-gayu) is prepared on the seventh day of January, a day known as jinjitsu. Another custom is creating rice cakes (mochi). Boiled sticky rice (mochigome) is put into a wooden shallow bucket-like container and patted with water by one person while another person hits it with a large wooden mallet. Mashing the rice, it forms a sticky white dumpling. This is made before New Year’s Day and eaten during the beginning of January. Mochi is also made into a New Year’s decoration called kagami mochi, formed from two round cakes of mochi with a tangerine daidai placed on top. The name daidai is supposed to be auspicious since it means “several generations.”
OTHER NEW YEAR’S FIRSTS TO CELEBRATE: Celebrating the new year in Japan also means paying special attention to the first time something is done in the new year. There are many “firsts” to celebrate; the two most popular are: (1) Hatsuhinode is the first sunrise of the year. Before sunrise on January 1, people often drive to the coast or climb a mountain so that they can see the first sunrise of the new year; and, (2) Hatsumōde is the first trip to a shrine or temple. Many people visit a shrine after midnight on December 31 or sometime during the day on January 1. If the weather is good, people often dress up or wear a kimono. Other “firsts” to celebrate include waraizome (first laughter), starting the New Year with a smile is considered a good sign; hatsuyume (first dream); hatsudayori (first letter), meaning the first exchange of letters; shigoto-hajime (the first work of the new year), keiko-hajime (the first practice of the new year), hatsugama (the first tea ceremony of the new year), and hatsu-uri (the first shopping sale of the new year).
The end of December and the beginning of January are the busiest times for the Japanese post offices. The Japanese have a custom of sending New Year’s Day postcards (nengajō) to their friends and relatives, similar to the Western custom of sending Christmas cards. However, the origin of this custom exists for people to tell others whom they did not often meet that they were alive and well.1