by Linda Okazaki
Akemashite Omedeto Gozaimasu
photos by Samantha Okazaki
On New Year’s Day, most American families lounge in their pajamas, watch football, take down holiday ornaments and perhaps recover from the previous evening’s festivities. But in our house, as with most Japanese families, January 1 is the biggest holiday of the year.
Cleaning begins in the middle of December. It’s bad luck to bring old dirt into the new year so every nook and cranny is scrubbed; bills are paid; social calls are made. After that, the food and decorations are ordered and family is invited. Around December 28, the kadomastu is placed at the entrance to welcome the ancestral spirits. Envelopes of money (otoshidama) are prepared for children. The kagome mochi is placed to symbolize the coming and going of the years.
The 31st is a buzz of activity. Food is prepared, sashimi is picked up from the fish market, last-minute dashes to the grocery store take place. Much of the food is traditional, some is just tasty. Just before midnight, the family eats toshikoshi soba; the noodles symbolize a long life. Early on the 1st, the final preparations are underway. Breakfast might be a warm bowl of ozoni or some grilled mochi. Then the sashimi is sliced, the sushi rice is seasoned, and all of the other dishes are readied for the party, including teriyaki, kara age, oshitashi, curry and sushi. Much of the traditional food is eaten for good luck. With that feast, I’m thinking that the year of the snake is going to be a very lucky year.