New Year Traditions Around the World – Japan

The Japanese New Year, Shogatsu, has been celebrated on January 1 since 1873. The original celebration of Shogatsu is still marked on the same day as the contemporary Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese New Years which in 2015 falls on February 19.

Shogatsu is an important Japanese celebration, both Shintoism and Buddhism honor this special time of renewal. Shogatsu signifies seasonal changes, begins a new cycle and expresses the importance of ancestry.

At midnight on December 31, Buddhist temples in Japan ring their bells 108 times to symbolize the 108 human sins in Buddhist belief, and to get rid of the 108 worldly desires. Japanese people believe that the ringing of bells can rid their sins of the previous year. After they have finished ringing the bells, they celebrate and feast on soba noodles.

Bell ringing

Kadomatsu, or gate pine, are traditional decorations that are placed at the entrances of homes & businesses in anticipation of the New Year. Purification is an important ritual of Shogatsu, and preparations take place in homes, businesses and temples.


Kadomatsu are placed to welcome ancestral spirits, invite the divinities to bring prosperity and guard against evil spirits. Kadomatsu are placed in pairs which represent male and female. Designs vary from urban to rural regions and typically they are made with two main components, each element being significant. Pine signifies vitality, longevity and long life. Bamboo signifies strength and growth. The bamboo is sliced at three different heights, representing heaven, humanity and earth.

Located outside of the Lena Meijer Tropical Conservatory, our Kadomatsu display is adorned with shide, a folded white paper ornament. Shide typically marks a sacred site and is a tool for purification. Straw and rope bind all of the elements together to complete the Kadomatsu.

During 2015, Meijer Gardens is celebrating our 20th Anniversary by Welcoming the World through our exhibitions and the opening of The Richard & Helen DeVos Japanese Garden. Come explore more of Japanese culture during our Splendors of Shiga: Treasures From Japan exhibition which opens on January 30.

What are some of the New Year traditions in your family? Leave them below in the comments or post them on our Facebook page here.

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