Japanese New Year Vocabulary Dictionary: Celebrating the Traditions

Japan New Year Adviser Exam Column

Welcome to the Japanese New Year Vocabulary Dictionary! In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the rich cultural traditions and customs associated with the Japanese New Year, also known as “Oshogatsu.” This dictionary aims to provide you with a deep understanding of the essential vocabulary related to this festive season, allowing you to appreciate and celebrate the Japanese New Year to its fullest.

Japanese New Year Key Vocabulary

The terms are arranged alphabetically (A-Z) for easy reference.

Battledore and Shuttlecock (Hane-tsuki)

Name: Battledore and Shuttlecock

Japanese: 羽根つき (Hane-tsuki)

Description: Hane-tsuki, also known as Battledore and Shuttlecock, is a traditional game where participants hit a shuttlecock (a small feathered object) with a wooden paddle called a battledore. The objective is to keep the shuttlecock in the air for as long as possible using only the paddle. It is often played during the New Year as a form of entertainment and physical activity.

Bonfire Festival (Dondoyaki)

Name: Bonfire Festival

Japanese: どんど焼き (Dondoyaki)

Description: Dondoyaki is a traditional bonfire festival held in early January to burn old New Year decorations and bring good luck for the new year. People gather around the bonfire, pray, and enjoy the warmth and festive atmosphere.

Celebratory Chopsticks (Iwai-bashi)

Name: celebratory chopsticks

Japanese: 祝い箸 (Iwai-bashi)

Description: Iwai-bashi, or celebratory chopsticks, are special utensils with tapered ends that are used specifically for enjoying New Year’s cuisine.

Coming of Age Ceremony (Seijinshiki)

Name: Coming of Age Ceremony

Japanese: 成人式 (Seijinshiki)

Description: Seijinshiki is a traditional ceremony held in January to celebrate young individuals who have reached the age of majority in Japan. It marks their transition into adulthood.

Deity of the Year (Toshigami)

Name: Deity of the Year

Japanese: 歳神 (Toshigami)

Description: Toshigami refers to the deity or god associated with the New Year. It is believed that the Toshigami visits each household to bring blessings and good fortune for the coming year.

Dharma Doll (Daruma)

Name: Dharma Doll

Japanese: 達磨 (Daruma)

Description: The Dharma doll, or Daruma, is a traditional Japanese doll modeled after Bodhidharma, the founder of Zen Buddhism. It is often associated with the New Year as a symbol of setting goals and achieving them. During the New Year, people often purchase a blank Daruma doll and paint one of its eyes while making a wish or setting a goal for the coming year. As they work towards their goal, the doll serves as a reminder of their aspirations and determination. Once the goal is accomplished, the second eye is painted, symbolizing the fulfillment of their wishes.

First Dream (Hatsuyume)

Name: First Dream

Japanese: 初夢 (Hatsuyume)

Description: Hatsuyume refers to the first dream one has on the night of New Year’s Day. It is believed that this dream holds significance and can provide insights or omens for the year ahead. Many people look forward to their Hatsuyume as it is believed to symbolize good luck and positive experiences in the year. People often share and discuss their Hatsuyume experiences with family and friends during the New Year period.

First Shrine Visit (Hatsumōde)

Name: First Shrine Visit

Japanese: 初詣 (Hatsumōde)

Description: Hatsumōde is the tradition of making the first visit to a Shinto shrine at the beginning of the new year. People pray for blessings, express gratitude, and set their intentions for the year ahead. It is one of the most important and popular customs during the New Year season.

First Sunrise (Hatsuhi no de)

Name: First Sunrise

Japanese: 初日の出 (Hatsuhi no de)

Description: Hatsuhi no de refers to the first sunrise of the new year. It is considered auspicious to witness the sunrise on New Year’s Day, as it symbolizes the beginning of a fresh start and brings hope and positive energy.

First Water (Wakamizu)

Name: First Water

Japanese: 若水 (Wakamizu)

Description: Wakamizu refers to the first water drawn from a well or a natural spring on New Year’s Day. It is considered pure and believed to have purifying properties. Wakamizu is often used for ceremonial purposes, such as cleansing and blessing rituals performed at shrines or homes during the New Year.

Folklore Studies (Minzokugaku)

Name: Folklore Studies

Japanese: 民俗学 (Minzokugaku)

Description: Folklore Studies, or Minzokugaku, is an academic discipline that explores the traditional customs, beliefs, rituals, and cultural practices of a specific community or region. It involves the study of folktales, festivals, folk art, and other aspects of folk culture.

Fortune Slip (Omikuji)

Name: Fortune Slip

Japanese: お御籤 (Omikuji)

Description: Omikuji is a paper fortune that is randomly drawn at shrines and temples. It reveals one’s fortune or prediction for the upcoming year and provides guidance and advice.

Gate Pine Decoration (Kadomatsu)

Name: Gate Pine Decoration

Japanese: 門松 (Kadomatsu)

Description: Kadomatsu is a traditional decoration placed in pairs at the entrance of homes, temples, and shrines during the New Year period. It consists of bamboo, pine branches, and other auspicious elements, symbolizing the presence of ancestral spirits and inviting good luck and prosperity.

Kagura (Kagura)

Name: Kagura

Japanese: 神楽 (Kagura)

Description: Kagura is a traditional Shinto theatrical dance and music performance dedicated to the gods. It is often performed during New Year’s celebrations to express gratitude, seek blessings, and bring good fortune.

Karuta (Karuta)

Name: Karuta

Japanese: かるた (Karuta)

Description: Karuta is a traditional Japanese card game played during New Year’s gatherings. It involves matching and collecting cards with different images or poems, fostering competition, memory skills, and enjoyment among players.

Kite Flying (Takoage)

Name: Kite Flying

Japanese: 凧揚げ (Takoage)

Description: Takoage is the tradition of flying kites during the New Year season in Japan. It is believed to bring good luck and drive away evil spirits, with colorful kites filling the sky.

Large New Year (Ōshōgatsu)

Name: Large New Year

Japanese: 大正月

Description: Ōshōgatsu refers to the first few days of the year, typically starting from January 1st. It is a significant and festive time in Japan, symbolizing a fresh start and the beginning of a new year. The term “大” (ō) in Japanese means “big”, Oshōgatsu and Koshōgatsu are in contrast to each other.

Note: The specific customs and customs associated with Oshogatsu and Koshogatsu may vary from region to region in Japan, reflecting the rich diversity of regional traditions.

Little New Year (Koshōgatsu)

Name: Little New Year

Japanese: 小正月 (Koshōgatsu)

Description: Koshōgatsu, or Little New Year, is observed around January 15th and marks the end of the New Year’s celebrations. On this day, some regions in Japan follow specific customs such as taking down New Year decorations and preparing for the return to everyday life. The term “小” (ko) in Japanese means “small”, Oshōgatsu and Koshōgatsu are in contrast to each other.

Note: The specific customs and customs associated with Oshogatsu and Koshogatsu may vary from region to region in Japan, reflecting the rich diversity of regional traditions.

Lucky Laugh (Fukuwarai)

Name: Lucky Laugh

Japanese: 福笑い (Fukuwarai)

Description: Fukuwarai is a traditional Japanese game where players assemble a face on a blank board by placing different facial features while blindfolded. It is a lighthearted activity enjoyed during the New Year period, bringing laughter and joy.

Mirror Rice Cake (Kagami Mochi)

Name: Mirror Rice Cake

Japanese: 鏡餅 (Kagami Mochi)

Description: Kagami Mochi is a special arrangement of stacked rice cakes used as a traditional New Year decoration. It consists of two round mochi cakes symbolizing a mirror, representing the gods and ancestors, and is believed to bring good luck and blessings for the year.

Naked Pilgrimage (Hadaka-mairi)

Name: Naked Pilgrimage

Japanese: 裸参り (Hadaka-mairi)

Description: Hadaka-mairi is a ritual where participants, often men, visit a shrine or temple while wearing only loincloths. It is believed to purify the soul and bring good fortune for the new year.

New Year Anniversary (Oshōgatsu)

Name: New Year

Japanese: お正月 (Oshōgatsu) =正月 (Shōgatsu)

Description: Oshōgatsu, Shōgatsu, or New Year, is the most important and widely celebrated holiday in Japan. It is a time of renewal and fresh beginnings, marked by traditional customs, family gatherings, and various festivities.

New Year Calligraphy (Kakizome)

Name: New Year Calligraphy

Japanese: 書き初め (Kakizome)

Description: Kakizome refers to the tradition of writing the first calligraphy of the year. People write auspicious words or phrases with a brush and ink to express their hopes, aspirations, and resolutions for the upcoming year.

New Year Cleaning (Ōsōji)

Name: New Year Cleaning

Japanese: 大掃除

Description: Ōsōji, or New Year Cleaning, derived from the tradition of Soot Sweeping, is a common practice in Japan. It refers to the thorough cleaning and organizing of homes and surroundings towards the end of the year. It is a way to prepare for the upcoming New Year and start afresh by tidying up and decluttering the living environment.

New Year’s Day (Ganjitsu)

Name: New Year’s Day (Full Day)

Japanese: 元日 (Ganjitsu)

Description: Ganjitsu represents the entire day of January 1st, signifying a full day of celebration and festivities. It is a time for families to come together, visit shrines, enjoy special meals, and engage in traditional customs associated with New Year’s. Note: It represents the entire day of January 1st.

New Year’s Day (Gantan)

Name: New Year’s Day

Japanese: 元旦 (Gantan)

Description: Gan-tan refers to the morning of January 1st, symbolizing the beginning of the new year. It is a time for people to greet each other, offer prayers, and engage in various traditional activities to welcome the fresh start. Note: It specifically represents the morning hours of January 1st.

New Year’s Eve (Ōmisoka)

Name: New Year’s Eve

Japanese: 大晦日

Description: Ōmisoka, or New Year’s Eve, refers to the last day of the year when people gather with family and friends, engage in year-end preparations, and welcome the arrival of the new year with various traditions and activities.

New Year’s Eve Bell Ringing (Joyanokane)

Name: New Year’s Eve Bell Ringing

Japanese: 除夜の鐘 (Joyanokane)

Description: Joyanokane is the tradition of ringing temple bells on New Year’s Eve to bid farewell to the old year and welcome the new one. The sound of the bells is believed to purify and bring good luck.

New Year’s Eve Soba (Toshikoshi Soba)

Name: New Year’s Eve Soba

Japanese: 年越しそば (Toshikoshi Soba)

Description: Toshikoshi Soba is a traditional noodle dish eaten on New Year’s Eve in Japan. It symbolizes crossing over from the old year to the new year, and it is believed to bring longevity and good luck.

New Year’s Feast (Osechi-ryori)

Name: New Year’s Feast

Japanese: おせち料理 (Osechi-ryori)

Description: Osechi-ryori is a traditional Japanese New Year’s meal consisting of various beautifully arranged dishes served in special stacked boxes called jubako. It symbolizes good fortune, health, and prosperity for the coming year.

New Year’s First Three Days (Sanganichi)

Name: New Year’s First Three Days

Japanese: 三が日 (Sanganichi)

Description: Sanganichi refers to the first three days of the new year, which are considered to be a special and auspicious time in Japan. It starts on New Year’s Day and is filled with various customs and traditions. People often visit shrines or temples for hatsumode (first shrine visit) to pray for good fortune and make offerings.

New Year’s Fish (Shogatsuuo)

Name: New Year’s Fish

Japanese: 正月魚 (Shogatsuuo)

Description: Shogatsuuo refers to the special fish dishes prepared and enjoyed during the New Year period. It is believed to bring good luck and prosperity for the coming year.

New Year’s Flowers (Shogatsubana)

Name: New Year’s Flowers

Japanese: 正月花 (Shogatsubana)

Description: Shogatsubana refers to the flowers that are traditionally displayed and used as decorations during the New Year festivities. These flowers symbolize renewal, beauty, and the arrival of spring.

New Year’s Gift Money (Otoshidama)

Name: New Year’s Gift Money

Japanese: お年玉 (Otoshidama)

Description: Otoshidama is a monetary gift given to children by their relatives on New Year’s Day. It is usually presented in small envelopes and represents good luck and blessings for the recipients.

New Year’s Greeting Card (Nengajo)

Name: New Year’s Greeting Card

Japanese: 年賀状 (Nengajo)

Description: Nengajo are traditional New Year’s greeting cards exchanged among family, friends, and colleagues in Japan. They typically feature zodiac animals and well wishes for the new year. Nengajo are sent to convey warm greetings and maintain social connections.

New Year’s Sake (Otoso)

Name: New Year’s Sake

Japanese: お屠蘇 (Otoso)

Description: Otoso is a ceremonial sake enjoyed during New Year’s celebrations. It is a sweet and spiced rice wine that is believed to ward off evil spirits and bring good fortune and health in the new year.

One Fuji, Two Hawks, Three Eggplants (Ichifujinitakanasannasubi)

Name: One Fuji, Two Hawks, Three Eggplants

Japanese: 一富士二鷹三茄子 (Ichifujinitakanasannasubi)

Description: “One Fuji, Two Hawks, Three Eggplants” is a phrase believed to bring good luck when these objects appear in the first dream of the year, symbolizing the auspiciousness of Mount Fuji, hawks, and eggplants in that order.

Opening the Mirror (Kagami Biraki)

Name: Opening the Mirror

Japanese: 鏡開き (Kagami Biraki)

Description: Kagami Biraki is a traditional ceremony where a decorative sake barrel or a ceremonial mochi is cracked open with wooden mallets. It symbolizes good luck, prosperity, and the breaking of barriers.

Rice Cake (Mochi)

Name: Rice Cake

Japanese: 餅 (Mochi)

Description: Mochi is a traditional Japanese rice cake made from glutinous rice. It is commonly eaten during the New Year’s celebrations and is often prepared by pounding steamed rice with a wooden mallet. Mochi symbolizes good fortune and longevity.

Sacred Sake (Omiki)

Name: Sacred Sake

Japanese: お神酒 (Omiki)

Description: Omiki is a sacred sake used in Shinto rituals and ceremonies, including New Year’s celebrations. It is offered to the gods as a symbol of purification and blessings.

Seven Deities of Good Fortune (Shichifukujin)

Name: Seven Deities of Good Fortune

Japanese: 七福神 (Shichifukujin)

Description: The Seven Deities of Good Fortune are a group of deities from Japanese folklore associated with good luck, prosperity, and happiness. They are commonly depicted together and are worshipped during the New Year period.

Seven Herb Rice Porridge (Nanakusa Gayu)

Name: Seven Herb Rice Porridge

Japanese: 七草粥 (Nanakusa Gayu)

Description: Nanakusa Gayu is a rice porridge cooked with seven different herbs and eaten on January 7th in Japan. It is believed to promote good health and drive away evil spirits. It is a symbolic dish that marks the end of New Year celebrations.

Shimenawa Decoration (Shimekazari)

Name: Shimenawa Decoration

Japanese: 注連飾り (Shimekazari)

Description: Shimekazari is a sacred rope with symbolic decorations made of rice straw or other materials. It is hung on the entrance of homes and shrines during the New Year to ward off evil spirits and welcome the deities.

Soot Sweeping (Susuharai)

Name: Soot Sweeping

Japanese: 煤払い (Susuharai)

Description: Susuharai is a traditional event with a long history in Japan. It involves the cleaning and purification of homes, particularly the removal of soot and dust accumulated from the previous year. It is done to welcome the New Year with a clean and fresh living space.

Sugoroku (Sugoroku)

Name: Sugoroku

Japanese: 双六 (Sugoroku)

Description: Sugoroku is a traditional Japanese board game played during the New Year period. Players move their pieces along a numbered board, and it is considered a fun and auspicious activity to start the year with.

Tug of War (Tsunahiki)

Name: Tug of War

Japanese: 綱引き (Tsunahiki)

Description: Tsunahiki is a popular traditional game played during New Year festivals and events. It involves teams pulling on opposite ends of a large rope, symbolizing unity, strength, and the hope for a prosperous year ahead.

Zoni (Zoni)

Name: Zoni

Japanese: 雑煮 (Zoni) = お雑煮 (Ozoni)

Description: Zoni is a traditional Japanese soup dish typically enjoyed on New Year’s Day. It consists of a clear broth with mochi (rice cakes), vegetables, and other ingredients. Zoni is considered a special dish that brings good luck and happiness for the new year.

[Topic] Traditional Games and Activities (伝統的な遊びと行事)

During the New Year, various traditional games and activities are enjoyed by families and friends in Japan. Some popular examples include hanetsuki (a game similar to badminton), fukuwarai (a blindfolded game of sticking features on a face), and karuta (a card-matching game). These activities promote bonding, laughter, and joyous moments.


The Japanese New Year is a time of profound cultural significance, where ancient traditions and customs are cherished and celebrated. This English version of the “Japanese New Year Vocabulary Dictionary” aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of the key terms associated with this festive season. By embracing the unique vocabulary and participating in the customs and rituals, you can fully immerse yourself in the rich cultural tapestry of Japan’s New Year celebrations. May the New Year bring you joy, success, and harmony!

  • 2023/05/23 Updated. Added contents.
  • 2023/05/21 Published


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