Holiday break is now over and I have now begun the final 2 months of classes before the semester is over.  During the break, I got an interesting look at some holiday traditions in Japan.

Although Christmas is very popular in Japan, it isn’t nearly as popular as in the United States.  Many people have Christmas parties and exchange gifts, but it isn’t a major “family holiday.”

New Years is a much bigger celebration.  It all starts with the special dishes that are served on New Years Eve.  Among them are boiled seaweed, fish cakes, and mashed sweet potato with chestnuts, as well as many others.  That night, it is customary to visit a shrine.  My friends and I chose to visit a shrine near Tokyo Tower, which was beautifully decorated with lights for the New Year.

People have balloons that they have tied a New Years wish to.  At midnight, there is a ten-second countdown to the New Year, just like in America.  Once it is midnight, everyone releases their balloons into the air.

Afterwords, everyone enters the temple and makes their way to the front through the massive crowd of people.  Once you reach the front, there is an area to throw money in (I was told that using either 5 or 50 yen is the best…I’m not sure why).  After you throw the money in, you say a short prayer and leave.

In Japan, people send New Years Cards called Nengajo to friends and family rather than Christmas Cards.  As long as you mail them by a certain time and write “Nengajo” on them, they will be delivered on January 1st.  Another New Years custom is Otoshidama, where adults give children money.  The money is given in colorful envelopes.

Brian Campbell is studying abroad at Sophia University in Tokyo, Japan.