Thursday, December 30, 2004

Phenomenon: Japanese new year

Japanese people eat a special selection of dishes on New Year's Day called osechi. Some of the popular foods included in osechi are miso soup with mochi (sticky rice cakes) and vegetables (ozo-ni), sweetly boiled seaweed wrapped tuna fish (kobumaki), jellied fish paste (kamaboko), mashed sweet potato with marron (kurikinton) and sweetened black beans (kuromame).

Japanese have a custom of sending New Year's Day postcards to their friends and relatives. It is similar to the European custom of sending Christmas cards. Instead of sending Christmas cards, Japanese people send these postcards so that they arrive on the 1st of January. The end of December and the beginning of January are the busiest times for the post office.

On New Year's Day, Japanese people have a custom of giving pocket money to children. It is handed out in small decorated envelopes called 'pochibukuro', descendants of the Chinese red packet, and is called otoshidama. In the Edo period, large stores and wealthy families gave out a small bag of mochi and a Mandarin orange to spread happiness all around.

The New Year traditions are also a part of Japanese poetry, including haiku and renga. All of the traditions above would be appropriate to include in haiku as kigo (season words).