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Japan always celebrates the new year on the first day of January. The Chinese New Year is based on the lunar calendar and the date can differ every year. Yes, there are more similarities between Japan and China than, say, Japan and France, but they are different countries and different cultures, and the new year is celebrated in their own unique ways.

The New Year Holiday in Japan is called Oshougatsu and is the most sacred and important day of the year. Businesses and schools close for three days. Families and friends visit one another to wish everyone well for the coming year, eat traditional foods, and play games. The first day of the year is symbolic of the coming year, so people are happy, avoid stress and anger, clean their homes, and enjoy themselves.

Children look forward to receiving Otoshidama, cash in specially decorated envelopes from friends and family. The amount of money varies, but it can be as much as one hundred dollars.

Kids don’t play as many New Year’s games as they used to (are video games more fun?), but the following is a list of some of the games. Hanetsuki is like badminton except that the birdie is hit with a wooden paddle and there is no net. Takoage is kite flying. Many of the kites are often painted with fierce samurais. Sugoroku is a game similar to backgammon. Kids compete to see whose Koma, colorful tops, spin the longest. Karuta is a card game using cards printed with poems and pictures.

New Year is the time of the year for people to wear beautiful kimonos. Pretty girls can be seen out in groups showing off their colorful clothes.

Nengajos is similar to Christmas cards except that they are postcard greetings sent to arrive on January first. Like in the U.S., postal workers work around the clock to deliver Nengajos on time.

Tantalizing dishes for the New Year celebration are prepared, not only for the family, but for guests who stop by. Celebratory foods can differ from region to region, but ozouni soup with mochi (pounded rice cakes in clear soup) and oshiruko (sweetened azuki bean soup) are a couple of my favorite dishes. They’re like having soup and dessert all day long. Ummmm good!

Oshougatsu is a wonderful time when problems and troubles from the previous year are cast aside and everyone gets to start fresh. Everyone deserves a fresh start.