JDF JapanDefenseFocus No.71


Omisoka - New Year’s Eve -

Omisoka - New Year’s Eve -

In Japan the final day of the year is called Omisoka. This day marks the time when Oharai, or rituals of purification, are carried out at shrines and palace in order to exorcise the sins or impurities of the previous year so that the New Year can be welcomed in a purified condition. The New Year is a time to welcome the deities of the year into the home and in the past it was also a time when one’s ancestors would come home, so the family would clean the Shinto shrine and Buddhist altar in preparation, which became customary for every household.

On Omisoka the entire family sits down to eat an auspicious meal of fish with the head and tail attached as well as a soup containing rice cake and vegetables. Another tradition is eating Toshikoshi Soba, or year-crossing soba, on Omisoka. The night of Omisoka is also referred to as joya in Japanese. The term joya-no-kane refers to the Buddhist tradition where temples throughout Japan ring the temple bell 108 times right before New Year’s Day. People who visit temples are also given the chance to ring the temple’s bell.

The 108 rings symbolizes the 108 earthly desires that plague humankind according to Buddhist beliefs. These earthly desires encompass the belief that the “deceived mind is plagued by the body” and by ringing the bell 108 times each of these earthly desires can be eliminated one by one in preparation to welcome the New Year with a pure mind. Around New Year’s Eve people also make mochi, or sticky rice cake, one of Japan’s traditional preserved foods, which is eaten during the New Year’s festivities.

Many SDF units across Japan invite family members of personnel to attend mochi-making festivities as part of their Omisoka events. SDF bands also hold concerts, while major cleaning also takes place in preparation for seeing off the past year and welcoming in the New Year.

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