It's Still the New Year; Celebrate Oshogatsu at Japan Society



Oshogatsu, Japan Society, NYC, Celebrasia, New Year, Japanese traditions, Japanese customs, Japanese history
Oshogatsu at Japan Society. Photo by George Hirose.

Japan’s New Year’s Day Celebration: Oshogatsu

Sunday, January 25 from 2:00 until 4:00 p.m.

Japan Society – 333 E. 47th Street (between First and Second Avenues)

Tickets: $18/$10 Japan Society Members/Free children ages 2 and under

For the fifth year running, leading New York City cultural organizations with an Asia focus take part in CelebrASIA NYC: New Year’s Festivities for Families. The three-month series encompassing pan-Asian cultural and New Year’s traditions launches at Japan Society Sunday, January 25, with Japan’s New Year’s Day Celebration: Oshogatsu and continues through March in Manhattan and Queens.

Occurring throughout Japan Society’s landmark building, Japan’s New Year’s Day Celebration: Oshogatsu invites families and children of all ages to revel in Japan’s New Year’s holiday. Participants receive hands-on taiko drumming instruction, as well as participate in games such as painting auspicious Japanese words and phrases with New Year’s calligraphy (kakizome), kitemaking (takoage), and drawing faces on paper while blindfolded (fukuwarai, or “funny face”). Activities also include lion dancing (shishi-mai), in which a masked dancer with a flowing white mane weaves in and out of the crowd and performs daring feats of coordination accompanied by taiko and traditional flute (fue). And everyone can try their hand at traditional rice pounding (mochi-tsuki), in which they pound rice dough with a large ceremonial mallet (edible sticky rice cakes, or mochi, prepared from a local Japanese confectionary will be available to eat.)

“Creating mochi is one of the most traditional activities of the New Year in Japan. Children, along with their families, join in and pound away at that hot rice and make something very meaningful at this time of the year,” says Jeffrey Miller, Director of Education and Family Programs at the Society. “Games, traditional crafts, and the ever-popular taiko drumming bring great enthusiasm to the day.”

CelebrASIA NYC introduces families to Asia’s diverse New Year festivals and themes through hands-on activities and workshops and programs at seven of New York City’s leading cultural institutions. In addition to Japan Society’s New Year’s Celebration: Oshogatsu, CelebrASIA 2015 includes Museum of Chinese in America’s Blaaast into the New Year with MOCA! (February 28), The Korea Society’s Family Day: Korean New Year (January 31), Asia Society’s Family Day: Moon Over Manhattan! Celebrate the Lunar New Year (February 21), China Institute’s Chinese New Year, Year of the Goat (February 22), Rubin Museum of Art’s Losar Family Day: Himalayan New Year Celebration (February 22), Flushing Town Hall’s Lunar New Year Family Workshops: Calligraphy (March 1), and Asia Society’s Family Day: Spring into Nowroz! Celebrate the Persian New Year (March 21).

Drawing on various regional folk cultures, Chinese New Year practices have influenced several countries in Asia. Some traditions recognize the past and prepare for the future, such as ceremonial house cleaning or when young people kneel before their grandparents to receive a red envelope filled with blessings.

Japanese people take trips to Buddhist temples to pray and hear the 108 bells that ring out symbolizing the different types of sins humans are said to commit, followed by visits to Shinto shrines on the first three days of the New Year.

Many rituals make use of loud noises and music to expel the bad luck associated with the past year. Banging on pots and pans in Iran and Central Asia is believed to drive away evil spirits of the past year. Similarly, China celebrates with fireworks and lion dancing accompanied by loud cymbals, gongs and other percussive instruments. Japan celebrates with a lion dance as well, but it is accompanied by more melodious court music compared to the rhythmic drive of other countries.

“Traditional food is also an integral part of the New Year’s celebration across the Asian countries,” says Japan Society’s Kazuko Minamoto. “In Japan, it is customary to eat mochi, or rice cakes, as well as a variety of traditional dishes known as osechi.”

Because time is measured differently across Asia, the dates New Year’s is recognized vary greatly. Norouz, the Persian New Year, always falls on the Spring Equinox. Chinese New Year is also marked by the emergence of spring, occurring on the second New Moon after the winter solstice. In contrast, since the Meiji Era, Japan has marked its New Year by the Gregorian calendar, while Koreans celebrate by both the solar and lunar calendars.

2015 marks the Year of the Sheep for the countries that recognize the 12-year zodiac cycle, including Japan, Korea and China. The Japanese word for sheep, hitsuji is notable because its kanji character contains the shape of a ram’s head: 羊.

To purchase tickets for Japan’s New Year’s Day Celebration: Oshogatsu, please visit Japan Society’s website. For more information about CelebrASIA NYC: New Year’s Festivities for Families, please visit