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New Year 新年/しんねん

In the previous article (Shiwasu), I wrote about some December traditions. The yearend rituals continue throughout Oshougatsu (first three days of January). Until the 7-Eleven convenience store chain came to Japan in the early 70’s, no stores were open during the first three days of a new year. This is to give a short break to the protective deity of cooking fires. Shintoism is a polytheism, and each natural element has its own protective deity. In the old days, housewives cooked a large volume of a special meal called Osechi on New Year’s Eve and offered it to the god. During the first three days of a new year, household members only ate Osechi as the left-over of the god’s meal. As you can imagine, Osechi needs to last long enough without preservatives and taste good served cold. Now-a-days, fewer people cook Osechi since the preparation is time consuming and requires special skills. Instead, people purchase already made Osechi-box from restaurants or convenience stores such as 7-Eleven.

Late in the evening of New Year’s Eve, you won’t see count-down shows on the TV or big fireworks displays with confetti flying in the air. Instead, you hear a gong struck 108 times solemnly in slow intervals resonating in the quiet midnight air, which come from Buddhist temples allover Japan. These gongs are called Joya-no-kane. In Buddhism, it’s believed that people accumulate 108 earthly desires throughout the year. The gongs will eliminate each desire and let you have a fresh new beginning without unwanted cravings. You might hear the slurping noise of soba noodles being eaten if you are in a Japanese restaurant or household. People eat soba noodles when the calendar is turning wishing for a long and lasting (that’s what soba noodles represents) health and relationships for the New Year.

On the first three days of a new year, you will receive greeting cards with lottery numbers from friends and family. The postcards are called Nengajou. Around the time westerners receive Christmas cards, people in Japan are busy writing Nengajou to mail them so they are delivered within the first three days. Only post offices can sell Nengajou with lottery numbers. It’s not a shabby revenue source for them considering the relatively miniscule payouts for the lottery winners. The maximum winning amount is about $3,000.

Osechi Ryori, Japan, Japanese, New Year, meal, dish
Osechi: traditional Japanese New Year meal

日本語会話 中級

A: あっ、部長(ぶちょう)。 開(あ)けましておめでとうございます。今年(ことし)もよろしくお願(ねが)い申(もう)し上(あ)げます

B: あーおめでとう。今年もよろしく。正月休(しょうがつやす)みはどうでしたか? ゆっくり休(やす)めましたか?

A: はい、おかげさまで。家族(かぞく)とのんびり休日(きゅうじつ)を過(す)ごしました。食(た)べてばかりでしたので、少(すこ)し太(ふと)りましたが…

B: そうですか。 僕(ぼく)もお節(せち)とお雑煮(ぞうに)の食べ過(す)ぎで、太っちゃったよ。今日(きょう)から減量(げんりょう)にチャレンジだ。(笑(わらい)) 

A: 私も同(おな)じです。 今年は暖冬(だんとう)なので、またジョギングでも始(はじ)めようを思(おも)っているんです。

A: はい。それではまた後(のち)ほど。失礼(しつれい)いたします。

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Shinnen n. New Year

Oshougatsu お正月(おしょうがつ) n. January / per lunar calendar reference

Osechi n. special meal for New Year

Joya no Kane n. bells in the New Year's Eve

Nengajou n. a New Year post card

部長(ぶちょう) n. Director

開(あ)けましておめでとうございます a common greeting used when you meet someone for the first time in New Year. Literary means "Celebration for the opening of (New Year)"

申(もう)し上(あ)げます v. to say in humble form.

おかげさまで means "Thank you". literally means "under the god's shadow". When your good state is due to someone's help/favor/goodwill, you use this expression over ありがとうございます。

のんびり adv. relaxed

ばかり p. abundance of the same thing.

お雑煮(ぞうに) n. fish broth based special soup for New Year

太っちゃった  colloquial expression of てform verb + しまった

暖冬(だんとう) n. warm winter

でも p. N+でも used to list an example of an action in the sentence (to begin "something" such as jogging)

なりそうだ ますform verb+そうだ temporal guessing of state. 今年も忙しくなりそうだ- it seems this year will again be busy.

体力をつけて 体力=stamina 体力をつける=gain stamina

お互いに頑張りましょう Let's all do our best. お互いに could also means "each other" depending on context.

後(のち)ほど. later in a polite tone. compare with 後(あと)で

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