Japanese New Year celebrations are significant to families across the country! On January 1st, they gather to start the new year on a good note, to bring new fortune! But does Japan celebrate Lunar New Year? Where do they celebrate it? Let’s find out!
The lunar calendar is a system that organizes days according to moon cycles! While it’s perfect for tracking months, the worldwide solar or Gregorian calendar is more accurate for tracking years. Nevertheless, many countries still reference the lunar calendar for religious or cultural affairs!
Instead of celebrating the new year on January 1st, people celebrate the Lunar New Year in late January or early February. 2023’s Lunar New Year is on January 22nd, which officially marks the Year of the Rabbit, according to the Chinese zodiac! Celebrants worldwide will take to the streets to revel in the festivities and enjoy fantastic food and company!
In East Asia, China, South Korea, Taiwan, and Vietnam (and their respective diasporas) celebrate the Lunar New Year! Their events and customs center around good luck and prosperity. In addition, they also take this opportunity to honor their ancestors! Also, expect lots of red, because it’s a lucky color!
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Japan initially used a traditional lunar calendar from Korea by way of China. They even had unique names for the 12 months of the year! For example, the first month was Mutsuki, the “month of affection,” while the eighth month was Hazuki, the “month of (falling) leaves.”
But during the Meiji Restoration (1868-1889), Japan adopted the Gregorian calendar to be more in line with the rest of the world! Because of this, Japan’s Lunar New Year customs mainly died out with most people!
Despite this, remnants of Japan’s older lunar history remain! The Shin-Ochanomizu station on the Tokyo Metro Chiyoda Line has murals dedicated to the traditional months! They are gorgeous and worth looking at if you’re in town!
In addition, Japan’s setsubun celebration is loosely related to what used to be the Lunar New Year. However, it centers more around banishing lousy luck from the previous year and welcoming it in the new spring!
As mentioned earlier, there are still remnants of lunar-related culture in Japan! The most notable places are in areas with primarily Chinese immigrant populations! In addition, people still celebrate this holiday on a smaller scale in the Ryukyu Islands, made up of Okinawa Prefecture and Kagoshima’s Amami Islands!
The Ryukyuan people, due to their distinctive culture borrowing elements from Japan, Korea, Southeast Asia, and especially China, are among the few groups who celebrate the Lunar New Year. They celebrate it three times a year!
The first New Year’s celebration is on January 1st, in line with the Japanese tradition. They also eat toshikoshi soba, although Okinawans eat wheat noodles served with pork rather than buckwheat soba! However, other practices, such as hatsumode and end-of-year cleaning, are still the same.
The second New Year is on the first day of the Lunar New Year, in line with the rest of the world. These celebrations are on a smaller scale but also incorporate elements of indigenous and Chinese culture.
Lastly, the third and final New Year’s celebration takes place on the 16th day of the Lunar New Year, or Jūrukunichi in Okinawan. This event is called gusō, which is the afterlife’s New Year. In a similar fashion to Obon on the Japanese mainland, Okinawans head to their hometowns and honor their ancestors. Their ancestral offerings include pork, kamaboko fish cakes, and tofu!
The largest foreign population in Japan comes from China, and as such, they have very prominent communities! There are three major Chinatowns across Japan; Yokohama Chukagai, Kobe Nankinmachi, and Nagasaki Shinichi Chinatown.
Recently, a smaller Chinatown is also emerging in Tokyo’s Ikebukuro neighborhood. Though it’s one of the newer enclaves, they have plenty of restaurants and establishments to enjoy!
Most of the larger Chinatowns hold a yearly Lunar New Year celebration with elaborate lantern festivals, parades, and fireworks! The key events are the dragon dances and excellent acrobatic performances! Not to mention, there’s plenty of food to enjoy, such as nikuman!
So even though Japanese people generally don’t celebrate Lunar New Year, plenty of special celebrations are spread throughout the country! What are your plans for the next Lunar New Year? Would you like to celebrate it in Japan? Let us know in the comments below!
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