New Year (お正月, oshōgatsu) is the most important holiday in Japan. we do our “spring cleaning” at the end of the year. After the cleaning, To welecome and celebrate the Toshigami-sama deities, we decorate our house with Japanese traditional things such as Kadomatsu at the gate, Shimenawa ornament on the door and Kagami-mochi and flowers inside the house. Thinking the need to reduce emissions, I decided not to decorate Kadomatsu and Shimenawa this year (and also saved money).
Years are viewed as completely separate, with each new year providing a fresh start.
January 1 is a very auspicious day, best started by new year’s first dream (hatsu-yume), viewing the first sunrise (hatsu-hinode), and traditionally believed to be representative for the whole year that has just commenced. Therefore, the day is supposed be full of joy and free of stress and anger, while everything should be clean and no work should be done.
It is a tradition to visit a shrine or temple during shogatsu (hatsu-mode). After a three-year covid hiatus, I saw many people lined up outside of its ground. It seems crazy for non-Japanese to see such many non-religious Japanese suddenly gathering to shrines and temples. I think this unique tradition is greatly influenced by ancient solstice rituals. Even in the mid-winter, we call this celebration as early spring (初春, hatsu-haru). Our ancestors found out the slight balmy sunshine as a signal to start new farming toward next harvest. I think Christmas or Easter festival in Europe are also rooted with tradition of farming.
About the difference between shrine and temple, when I visit shrine, I pray deities for social matters such as peace and end of pandemic, while I pray Buddha in temples for my private things like I request to my ancestors. I will write about this topic next year.