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A Japanese Perspective on Oshogatsu

Discover Nikkei received this message from Yuko Tani in Japan. Tani is responding to an article about how one Nikkei family celebrates New Year’s. She writes to inform us that Japanese traditions aren’t just changing outside of Japan, even Japanese people have trouble holding on to the old ways. -ed.

I’m Yuko, a member of Discover Nikkei. I’m a Japanese who lives in Kyoto and study about Japanese American Identity at the graduate school. I just wanted to comment on the article, "A Yonsei’s Reflections...on a New Year and New Beginnings" by Vicky Murakami-Tsuda.

Reading the article, I was honestly impressed how she and her family and relatives respect Japanese tradition regarding Oshogatsu. Pictures of ozoni and toshikoshi soba look so nice, and the otoso pot for sake is beautiful. I cannot remember when I saw the otoso pot last time. When I and my two-year younger brother were little, my parents used to show otoso and osechi box so that we could learn the Japanese tradition (like a demonstration). Now that I’m 23, we sort of cut the process. My mom cooks ozoni (it’s with white miso in Kansai area by the way) and buy some okazu (like kuromame) to put on plates for the New Year’s breakfast. Except ozoni, most of okazu are ready-mades we buy at the supermarkets so that we can save time. We even have a little expensive ham, because it makes us feel kind of special.

So we have a “kind-of-like” Oshogatsu celebration in my family, and I think our case is not unusual. Many supermarkets sell completely boxed osechi, and its reservation starts in the middle of November. Others even don’t have osechi and have normal Western meal instead. Some families even fly out of Japan to spend New Year’s holiday overseas. Japanese lifestyles are getting more and more diverse, so I think we have to admit that the traditional way of Oshogatsu is losing in any way. That is why I felt fresh and a little nostalgic when I read the article about pretty Japanese style Oshogatsu.

However, I’m not trying to be little ourselves by saying “We’re losing our traditions! That’s terrible!” I think as lifestyles and generation change, the way of how we enjoy “tradition” has to change. That is not necessarily a bad thing. Besides, Vicky’s family’s Oshogatsu in the article seems to me very Japanese style, but it’s just my assumption. It’s possible that Nikkei changed some way of celebration so that it fits the lifestyle of living in the U.S. as Americans. It’s interesting, though, to see how Oshogatsu in the world is celebrated, and the article allowed me to rethink our culture.

So, that was my thoughts on Vicky’s article as an outsider. I’m not sure if my interpretation of her article is what you’ve intended, and if you have any comments on my thoughts, please tell me. I’m always looking forward to reading her interesting “Yonsei Reflections” article.

© Yuko Tani

Japan oshogatsu traditions