明けましておめでとうございます (Akemashite Omedetougozaimasu) is a typical greeting for a new year in Japan. Omedetou means Happy or Congratulations, and the literal meaning of Akemashite is the day breaks. Every day, the night ends and the day comes but it´s special because it´s the first day break of the year, so we say, Omedetou gozaimasu.
Japan´s new year stars with a sunrise. This first sunrise is considered as something holy and many people would go to the bay, beaches or harbours to see it. My mum lives near the Tokyo Bay and we used to go to see the first sunrise. Most of the time, there were many people waiting for the light coming up and when the sun started appearing, people made a sound of exclamation and clapped the hands.
If you go to some popular ones, you may be in a queue all day to get to the main building. So I recommend to go to a local one. I´m sure you don´t want any hassle from the first day of the year.
The photo on the right is Ikegami Honmonji (池上本門寺) and is much more relaxed than the one on the left. There are some stalls where you can buy some grilled squids, takoyaki or okonomiyaki to munch.
When you go to Hatsumoude, you go with some changes, get close to the main building where there is a saisen bako and colourful material/string hanging from a bell.
You throw a coin, 10 yen, 50 yen, 100 yen or if you want a 1,000 bill. Next, bow twice then shake this string to ring the bell and last another bow. Now you can ask wishes. I wonder what this man wished for.
Some people believe that we ring the bell to call the God but apparently it´s not. By ringing the bell, you can scare away the bad spirits and facilitates you to communicate with the God.
Japanese people go to Hatsumoude to say hello to the God for the first day of the year and that´s why it has more sense to go to your local temple or shrine, because they are the ones actually protect you from all sorts of troubles.
By the time you go back to the house, you find your postbox full of greeting cards, nengajou (年賀状). In December, people buy tons of nengajou cards from a post office and send them before the Christmas in order to get delivered on the 1st of January.
It´s OK to send nengajou until the 7th of January because until that day, it´s considered as Shougatsu (正月/ New Year) in Japan.
Some people send their original cards but good thing about buying them from the post office is, at the bottom of the card, you see the numbers and these numbers are your lottery number. You might get some prize if you are lucky.
It´s a year of dragon this year by the way.
Shogatsu is one of the most important event for Japanese people and there are so many details to tell you. So in the next few days, I´ll be showing you about Japanese New Year customs and traditions.
Wish you all the wonderful things for 2012.