Shogatsu, New Years' Day is the most important holiday of the year in Japan. For New Years the majority of businesses shut down from January first to January third so that people can celebrate the holiday. Prior to 1873 (the year the Japanese adopted the Gregorian calendar), Shogatsu was celebrated at the beginning of spring.
Hatsuhinode - At dawn in Japan, many people go to the coast or a high place to watch the sun rise. Television stations also broadcast the sun rising over different locales in the country starting with the earliest. The view of the rising sun is thought to bring good luck for the new year. New Year Day is a day of peace and rest.
Bonenkai (Forget-the-year Parties) are held throughout December while Shinnenkai (New Year Parties) are held throughout January. They are social gatherings of company workers, business and other friends and usually take place in restaurants and involve massive amounts of drinking. The bonenkai is a party to forget the unpleasant memories of the passing year. Shinnenkai are parties to welcome the New Year with a fresh and serene mind. At the party, bosses usually tell their staff to be Breiko (to forget their position and be impolite), because the relationship in the workplace in Japan is a bit strict. Bonenkai are more popular than Shinnenkai and company workers tend to go to more of them than students do.
Foods for New Years - It is common to prepare food for New Years on New Year's eve (originally this had to do with making the kami of the kitchen happy, no refrigeration and stores being closed, nowadays just tradition). The foods eaten on New Years are usually served cold, the main meal of the day is called osechi-ryōri. A popular food eaten on New Years is mochi (boiled sticky rice mashed into a dumpling) -because it is extremely sticky some people end up chocking to death on it, check the day after newspaper for a list.
Otoshidama - During New Years it is customary for parents and other relatives to give children money in small decorated envelopes called pochibukuro; this practice is called Otoshidama. In the Edo period large stores and wealthy families gave out a small bag of mochi and a Mandarin orange to spread happiness all around. The amount of money given depends on the age of the child but is usually the same if there is more than one child so that no one feels slighted; for Jr and Sr Highschool students the amount given is generally 5,000 to 10,000 yen per gift. For this reason, the time just after New Years is the busiest season for toy/electronic shops.
A list of firsts:
shigoto-hajime - the first day of work of the new year
keiko-hajime - first practice of the new year
hatsugama - first tea ceremony of the new year
hatsu-uri - first shopping sale of the new year
hatsudayori - first exchange of letters
kakizome - first calligraphy
fude hajime - first brush
waraizome - first laughter (starting the year with a smile is good)
hatsuyume - first dream (dreaming about, or some combination of, hawks, eggplants, and Mount Fuji are said to bring good luck for the rest of the year).
Hatsumode - is the first shrine (or temple, or church) visit of the New Year in Japan. Many people do this just after midnight so as to hear the bells ringing and do this at the same time. Even though many people do it just after midnight the shrines all over Japan are packed with people from the New year’s day to January third. People go to shrine to pray for the things most people pray for; safety, health, luck, happiness, peace, and long lives of the family. A lot of people are dressed up with their Kimono. People buy good luck talismans called Omamori and returns the old ones so they can be burned. They also get omikuji, which are random fortunes written on strips of paper at Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples in Japan. It is thought that the custom of Hatsumode comes from Toshigomori. Toshigomori was originally as a form of monoimi (a ritual period of abstinence) to cleanse one self for the New Year. Toshigomori was practiced by secluding oneself in a shrine from the early evening of New Year's Eve onward and to stay awake all night before the deity. The shrine that you go to should be in an auspicious direction, the direction where this year's Toshitokujin lived and no cursed god (tatarigami) was to come. This is determined by the zodiac sign.
It is customary to play many New Year's games. With the increase of electronic games (i.e. Video Games) this tradition is declining. Some traditional games are hanetsuki, takoage (kite flying), koma (top), sugoroku (a board game), fukuwarai (a game in which a blindfolded person places paper parts of a face, such as eyes, eyebrows, a nose and a mouth, on a paper face), karuta (card game), and others.
"Happy New Year" in Japanese - あけましておめでとうございます said Akemashite omedeto gozaimasu.