I’m sure we are all eagerly anticipating a better year for travel in 2021. Here in Japan, the New Year’s celebrations are highly influenced by Shinto and Buddhist rituals which stress purity, both spiritual and physical.
So we start the new year as a “clean slate”, allowing us to face the coming year with optimism and hope.
The Japanese new year starts with “Hatsumode”, the first visit to a shrine. Millions of people will visit a shrine in Japan to say a quick prayer for good fortune and happiness in the new year. Because so many people observe this tradition, some people opt to go on the second or third day of the year when the crowds are a little smaller. Here in Oita, the lovely and spacious Usa Jingu is a popular shrine to observe Hatsumode.
One of the favorite foods to eat on New Year’s Day is mochi, made from pounded rice. You may have seen Youtube videos of people skillfully pounding rice with a large wooden hammer at high speeds, but during the new year’s holiday, anyone can try pounding rice during the tradition called “mochitsuki”. These mochitsuki events involve small groups of people such as families, neighborhoods, or communities. After the mochi is made, it can be eaten in a variety of ways including in soup, with sweet red beans, or coated with a sweet, nutty kinako powder.
Another activity people love during this time of the year is to enjoy relaxing in an onsen hot spring. This isn’t really a new year’s tradition, but an activity that feels especially wonderful during the cold months of winter.
Oita Prefectural Tourism Association "Tourism Oita"