January 15 is ko shougatsu (小正月), the end of the traditional New Year. The hago ita (羽子板) will finally be taken down and the countdown to spring will begin!
As it’s the end of the New Year, today’s post will be about the Japanese way of celebrating a baby’s first new year, known as hatsu shougatsu (初正月, literally, “one’s first new year”).
Traditionally, the Japanese New Year, oshogatsu (お正月) is the first three to 15 days of the New Year). Here’s a look at how the monster celebrated this important event.
Hago Ita and Hamaya
If there is a baby girl celebrating their first ever new year, Japanese decorate their homes with an ornamental paddle called a hago ita (羽子板). Hago ita are handmade, and as a result can be expensive. A small hago ita without a box can cost around 10,000 yen (100 dollars), while larger ones in glass cases can go for anywhere between 30,000 to 50,000 yen or more (300-500 + dollars!).
During the Heian period (794 to 1185), it was popular to play a badminton-like game called hanetsuki (羽根つき) during the new year. Players use a wooden paddle called a hago ita.
The action of knocking away the shuttlecock is the same word as driving away evil forces. So, the hago ita is presented as a means to drive away bad luck and welcome the new year. The action of knocking away the shuttlecock is the same word and ritual action used when driving away evil forces.
Harau is the pronunciation for Japanese word “to drive away” (掃う) and “to drive away evil” (祓う). As a result, it became custom to protect babies from evil spirits.
Similarly, baby boys get a “demon-breaking arrow” arrow or hamaya (破魔矢).
[I’ll dive deeper into Heian Period in March with a new post after the monster celebrates her hatsu sekku (初節句) .]
Displaying Hago Ita and Hamaya
Hago ita and hamaya are put up in mid-December. December 13 is refered to as shogatsu koto hajime (正月事始め), the day on which Japanese begin put up New Year’s decorations like shimekazari (しめ飾り)and kadomatsu (門松).
There is no obligation to display new year’s decorations on December 13. It’s just a traditional date from the olden calendar.
However, it’s best to avoid two particular days two days. They are December 29 and December 31. An alternative reading of “29” sounds like a word for anguish. December 31 is to be equally avoided because putting up decorations at the last minute (ichiya kazari 一夜飾り) are like getting ready for a funeral- thought and care should be put in decorating the home for the new year).
In our case, the hago ita arrived shortly before Christmas and we put her up a few days later. Having little Kaiju up and walking in December was a surprise. It took us a while to organize the furniture and display it in a place where she could not reach it.
Another New Year’s custom is otoshidama (お年玉), money given to children in cute, small envelopes (ポチ袋）pochi bukuro. Traditionally, children receive otoshidama from parents and relatives.
“The custom seems to have started in the Edo period when large stores and wealthy families gave out small bags of mochi and a Mandarin orange to spread happiness. The amount of money depends on the age of the child, and the relationship between adult and child, however, 3,000-5,000 yen per envelope is common.” (Best Living Japan)
I put her otoshidama in her room with all her keepsakes and can’t wait to give it to her when she’s older!
Hatsumode is the first Shinto shrine or Buddhist temple visit of the Japanese New Year. While Japanese people aren’t necessarily religious, it’s hard to separate religion from Japanese customs. The New Year is perhaps the most important holiday in Japan and special planning is taken when doing hatsumode. People visit shrines and temples to makes wishes for the new year and to return and replace lucky charms known as omamori (お守り)
Major shrines and temples like Sensoji in Asakusa or Meiji Shrine in Harajuku can get up to 3 million visitors in the first 3 days of the year! We spent the new year in Ibaraki, in the husband’s hometown. Our shrine of choice has been visited by his family for years. It’s a local shrine that had absolutely no crowds (or people) on its grounds, even though it was January 2.
The standard meal for the first 3 days of the new year is osechi ryouri (お節料理), preserved dishes made in the final days of December. Osechi ryouri is more about presentation and eating auspicious dishes so there was nothing for baby to eat except for the dog carved out of a sweet potato.
She did, however, eat nanakusa gayu (七草粥), a rice porridge made of 7 different herbs. Eating this porridge is believed to bring health and wellness for the rest of the year. Nanakusa gayu is eaten on or around January 7, the last day of the Japanese New Year .
Below is a list of ingredients in nanakusa gayu. Unless you live in Japan or near an Asian market, I think it will be difficult to get all the ingredients (except turnips).
Her first new year is done and now I’m preparing for her first birthday — where does the time go?
Check out my other posts on Japanese celebrations for baby:
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