Japanese New Year 正月 (oshogatsu)
In Japan, oshogatsu 正月 (New Year; literally, “new month”), is the most important celebration of the year, a festive occasion with good feelings and nostalgia. The Japanese New Year’s celebrations evolved out of rituals associated with the changes of season, which are of utmost importance in Japanese farming.
Throughout most of its history, Japan went by the lunar calendar, so the holiday would fall at different dates on the Western Gregorian calendar. But since adopting the Western calendar in 1873, New Year’s is observed on January 1.
In Japan, as the end of the year approaches, the customary and familiar symbols of the New Year appear in the streets and in homes. Many of the symbols are based upon or linked to the Shinto, Buddhist, or folk traditions of Japan.
The kadomatsu 門松 (“gate-pine”), in picture at right, is an arrangement of pine, bamboo, and sometimes plum blossom. The arrangement is placed on either side of the front entrance to the house to ward off evil dominance and invoke fertility, growth, and the power to resist adversity and old age. The kadomatsu 門松 symbolizes the hope of the household that the upcoming year will bring vigor, long life, and strength to all family members.
The shimenawa 七五三縄, shown at left, is fresh rice-straw laced in a particular fashion to form a rope. This ornament is placed at the entrance of the house or over cooking stoves during the oshogatsu season. In the Shinto tradition, the shimenawa indicates a sacred area. It is believed that no evil can pass beyond the line of the shimenawa.
The Japanese New Year’s holiday lasts three days. New Year’s Eve is devoted to kite flying and other fun and games. January 1 and 2 are feast days. Most Japanese households still observe rituals that go back as far as the Edo period of the 17th century. New Year’s resolutions in Japan are made to bring prosperity and happiness for the future.
Wearing new clothing, family members rise early on New Year’s morning and visit the family shrine before they settle down to a breakfast of ozoni 雑煮, the traditional soup made in any number of regional styles, and join in a toast for good fortune with otoso 屠蘇, (sweet sake brewed with cinnamon and other spices), which is believed to prevent sickness. Friends and family spend New Year’s day visiting one another. The New Year is considered a time of compassion, forgiveness, and kindness toward all.
真Truth (shin) 善Goodness (zen) 美Beauty (bi)
These traditional Japanese values are represented by the melding of history and culture at Shofuso Japanese House and Garden. Shofuso is a traditional-style Japanese house and nationally-ranked garden in Philadelphia’s West Fairmount Park that reflects the history of Japanese culture in Philadelphia, from the 1876 Centennial Exposition to the installation of its contemporary paintings in 2007. Shofuso hosts over 20,000 visitors each year from more than 20 different countries.
The Friends of the Japanese House and Garden (FJHG), a private nonprofit organization, has administered, operated, funded, and preserved the city-owned site since 1982. In 2007, FJHG installed new fusuma murals created by contemporary Japanese artist, Hiroshi Senju. The murals, titled Waterfall, replaced those destroyed by vandals in the 1970s.
In 2012, FJHG partnered with the City of Philadelphia and renovated the 1876 Sakura Pavilion, two of four remaining buildings from the 1876 Centennial Exposition. The Sakura Pavilion project won the 2012 History In Pennsylvania Stewardship Award and now provides year-round space for programming, classes, meetings, events, receptions, and exhibitions. The historic Sakura Pavilion anchors Shofuso in Philadelphia’s history in a new way and confirms Shofuso as the embodiment of friendship between Japan and the United States.