The Year Of The Rabbit ウサギ
New year in Japan is one of the most important and biggest celebration’s. After the big house clean known as O-Souji has been done in preparation for the New year and the Bonenkai (forget the year parties) are a blurred memory, it’s time to welcome in the New Year.
My new year preparations always start a few days before New Years Eve with packing away all the Christmas decorations and putting out my display of New Year good luck items. Always avoid putting out decorations on the 29th as the word is reminiscent of the word suffering. Also the 31st is said to be too last minute and disrespectful to the kami.
It’s popular to display Kadomatsu, a traditional decoration made from bamboo and pine. It is usually a set of two put in front of the home to welcome ancestral spirits or kami.
Shimekazari is an ornament that represents a new start can may be hung on the house entrance. It is believed to bring luck and prevent bad spirits entering the house.
Something else you might display may be a Kagami Mochi consisting of two round mochi on top of each other and an orange on the top called a daidai. This one is store bought and has mochi inside. It is supposed to ward off fires from the house for the following year. It is normally placed in the household altar or in front of the entrance to the home. It is believed that when the New Year begins a god called Toshigami 年神 (Great-Year God”) will visit and offering them kagami Mochi will bring good luck. The Kirimochi Mochi which is rectangular is traditionally eaten in a ritual called Kagami biraki on the second Saturday or Sunday in January and can be grilled and eaten with a red bean soup called zenzai ぜんざい
A popular thing to do for New Year is to get a daruma doll. The doll comes with no eyes and you paint on one eye with your goal or intention for the year. My goal was to work in a career with something that had a connection to japan in some way. I hope I get to paint in the other eye some day.
Decorations of the coming zodiac animal are often displayed in the home. There are twelve animal signs which are called juni-shi . The cycle rotates every twelve years and this year 2023 is the year of the rabbit (Usagiウサギ) the fourth in the twelve-year cycle of animals.
You have the rabbit as your animal if you were born in 2023, 2011, 1999, 1987, 1975, 1963, 1951, 1939, 1927…
In Japan, the rabbit has long been said to be a very auspicious animal bringing good luck, and its long ears attracting good fortune.
Lucky flowers: plantain lily, jasmine.
So what does having the year of the rabbit mean for 2023? The shift in energy will be significant as we move out of 2022, the year of the Tiger and into the more patient and gentle Rabbit Year.
The sign of the Rabbit is a symbol of longevity, peace, and prosperity, 2023 is predicted to be a year of hope and prosperity. Coming after the battle with a global pandemic, the year ahead will help us recover and reconnect with new opportunities. Like rabbits, when we tap into our personal power and confidence, we can achieve our goals despite the challenges along the way. Take advantage of your skills (and luck!) as you enter the Year of the Rabbit.
There is an importance of the firsts of things on New Year’s Day. The first shrine visit is called hatsumōde 初詣 where during the first three days of the year people wait patiently in long lines in order to ring the bell and offer a New Year’s prayer, to begin their New Year with good fortune.
There is a tranquil shrine located at the foot of Mount Yoshida, tucked away behind the more touristy Heian-Jingu shrine in the Okazaki district east of Kyoto called Okazaki-jinja. It was one of the four main Shinto shrines built in 794 by Emperor Kanmu to protect Heian-kyo, the new imperial capital. The shrine is also nicknamed Usagi-jinja, which means “the rabbit’s shrine.” and there are cute rabbit statues everywhere you look.
The shrine is dedicated to the kami Susano-no-Mikoto and Kushinadahime-no-Mikoto from Japanese mythology. They had many children so the shrine is known for prosperity and childbirth, especially for those who are trying to conceive. The rabbits surrounding the shrine are also seen as a sign of fertility.
As you enter the shrine, as if hopping to greet you, there are two rabbits in front of the main hall of worship. One with her mouth open and the other has hers closed.
It is very rare to see them, because in other shrines they are usually not rabbits but lion dogs known as komainu, the statues that can be found guarding the entrances.
Especially popular is the black rabbit statue that stands at the chozuyu water purification font to the right of the main hall. A place to wash hands, the rabbit is looking up at the full moon. People make wishes here by pouring water on the rabbit, and rubbing its stomach and then praying to hope to have a baby with a safe delivery.
When you pray, you’ll see two rabbits standing in front of you, in a one-paw-up pose a bit like a beckoning cat Maneki-Neko. These beckoning rabbits bring you good luck in love and money.
A common custom during hatsumōde is to buy a written oracle called an omikuji. If your omikuji predicts bad luck you can tie it onto a tree in the shrine grounds, in the hope that its prediction will not come true.
The omikuji goes into detail, and tells you how you will do in various areas in your life, such as business and love for that year, in a similar way to horoscopes in the West. Often a good-luck charm comes with the omikuji when you buy it, that is believed to summon good luck and money your way. This is mine for 2023 which I carry with me for the rest of the year. I think it’s a lucky year .
On New Year’s Eve (oh-misoka ) some Japanese people like to eat Toshikoshi Soba 年越しそば. Toshikoshi means end the old year and enter the new year. A hot bowl of buckwheat noodles eaten to symbolise good luck for the new year a head and it is also said to let go of hardships from the previous year. This simple meal of buckwheat soba noodles is served in a hot dashi broth which is full of umami flavour and garnished with chopped green onions. I like to add aburaage to mine instead of the traditional Kamaboko fish cake to make it vegan. For the dashi I use a kombu shiitake dashi then mirin,tamari and yuzu rind.
I like to do this while watching the televised famous gigantic Buddhist temple bell at Chion-in Kyoto ringing the New Year .
It takes the combined force of seventeen monks to ring it. According to Buddhist teachings the number represents the 108 worldly desires that a person experience’s throughout the course of their life. When the bell is finally struck for the 108th time it is believed that you will be cleansed of your problems and worries from the last year. Joya-no-Kane refers to the annual ringing of bells on the night of New Year’s Eve at temples nationwide. The monks ring the temple bell 108 times 107 times on the 31st and once more when the clock strikes midnight to bridge the current year to the next. In fact, “joya” is one way of saying “New Year’s Eve” in Japanese while “kane” stands for “bell.”
Start New Year’s Day with a traditional Japanese breakfast. This breakfast soup said to be the most auspicious new year food and is part of Osechi Ryori. (Good luck food). Depending on the region in Japan the broth can either be clear or with miso .
Ozoni お雑煮 Enjoyed on the morning of New Year’s Day in Japan.
(Japanese New Year Mochi Soup – Kansai Style) . This style of soup from Kyoto region is made with Saikyo Miso (white miso from kyoto) and a round toasted Mochi. It is even more auspicious to add 5 ingredients I added daikon,carrot, komatsuna and Silken tofu with the mochi as the 5th ingredient.
Kanto style Ozoni (more popular in Tokyo and eastern Japan) which is a clear based soup known as Osumashi made with kombu dashi, with mirin and tamari. I like to add a dried shiitake when soaking the kombu to add to the umami. The flavours are very delicate which is typical of Shojin Ryori . Ozoni お雑煮 means mixed boil which relates to the mixed ingredients you can use. This soup was believed to bring good luck to samurai warriors and was served on New Year’s Day. Mochi is served to represent long life because it stretches. Soak the kombu and shiitake over night. Simmer the dashi with carrot and daikon. Add some chopped komatsuna and a slice of Yuzu peel maybe . Toast your Mochi and put it all together. Serve on its own or with some simple rice and pickles, which makes a nice breakfast to start the day.
I make Osechi Ryori 御節料理 or お節料理 every year for New Year’s Day (Ganjitsu 元日).It is considered the most important meal of the year. Osechi Ryori is usually packed in lacquer boxes (ojubako) which come in layers stacked on-top of each other. There are many dishes in each layer each symbolize things like happiness, wealth and health for the next year ahead.
Even though I am not in Japan I feel making it can bring Japan closer to me with my food. And hopefully closer for you also. New year is a very important time and food has a lot of special meaning. I like to make what significant food I can with vegan ingredients.
Nishime 煮しめ (圧力鍋)
one-pot colorful stew of root vegetables, shiitake and koyadofu, simmered in dashi broth seasoned with soy sauce, sake, and mirin. These simmered dishes are called nimono (煮物).
- Carrot – Welcome spring by shaping carrot into plum or cherry blossom shapes.
- Lotus root – The holes of lotus root presents a clear and unobstructed future
- Taro – Taro symbolizes fertility or descendants’ cut into hexagon that resembles a turtle shape represents longevity.
Namasu (なます) or also known as Kohaku Namasu (red and white)
(紅白なます) Red and white are considered celebratory colors in Japan. Julienned daikon and carrot pickled in a sweet vinegar with a hint of citrus.
Kuromame (Sweet Black Soybeans) 黒豆 served on New Year’s Day as a part of Osechi Ryori (traditional New Year’s meal) Eating kuromame is considered good for your health for the new year.
Pickled Lotus Root (Su Renkon) 酢れんこん Lotus root has been considered an auspicious food for the Japanese New Year because lotus root with its many holes is a symbol of an unobstructed view of the future.
Kuri Kinton (Candied Chestnuts and Sweet Potatoes) 栗きんとんchestnut gold mash. This dish symbolises fortune and wealth for a prosperous year ahead.
Amazake 甘酒 is also popular at new year along with sake. Many Shinto shrines sell or provide amazake on New Year’s Eve. There is also a herb sake called O-toso drunk at new year. Drinking O-toso is said to ward off infectious diseases like colds for the year.
You may see the wooden chopsticks I am using wrapped in red and white paper. They are called Iwai-bashi. These are chopsticks used for festive occasions. Both ends of the chopsticks are thinner, which means that one end is used by the Gods, and the other one by people. This represents the Gods and people eating together.
Other things that might be done on New Year’s Day, maybe the giving of new year cards known as nengajo to friends or relatives. Children will receive little money envelopes known as otoshidama, it is also customary to play games like badminton or go out and fly a kite. Board games like backgammon or snakes and ladders maybe played or children play with tradition spinning tops.
How to say Happy New year, if you wish to say happy new year to someone in Japanese and it is not yet new year then say Yoi Otoshio, if it is already new year say akemashite omedetou gozaimasu!
I hope that no matter if your in Japan or not that you might be able to, like me, bring a little of the Japanese traditions into your home. Why not make soba or make special food for the new year. Make a wish as you watch the sunrise or set new year goals with a daruma doll.
However you spend it I wish you all a healthy happy 2023 .
Happy New Year to you all !