10 useful Japanese phrases
The New Year is one of the most important events in the Japanese calendar. It’s a chance for people to take a break from the busy year and spend time relaxing with their families.
Here is the top 10 must-know vocabulary list for words, phrases, customs and kanji related to the New Year celebrations in Japan.
If you are in Japan during the new period you will almost definitely hear or need to use the following phrases. Listen to the audio and repeat.
Learn these and you’ll be an expert on the New Year in Japan.
1. お正月 oshōgatsu
This phrase refers to the New Year’s period. For example, a common conversation you hear on the lead up to the new year is:
a: お正月はどうする？ – oshōgatsu wa dō suru
b: 実家に帰るよ – jikka ni kaeru yo
a: What are you doing for the New Year?
b: I’m going back to my folk’s place
2. よいお年をお迎えください yoi otoshi o mukai kudasai
“yoi otoshi o omukae kudasai” is a formal way to wish some a happy new year until 31st December. This is more commonly shortened to “yoi otoshi o”. Another related word yo should know is 大晦日 “oomisoka” which refers to December 31st.
3. 明けましておめでとうございます。akemashite omedetō gozaimasu
“akemashite omedetō gozaimasu” mean’s “Happy new year” and is used from 1st January. “kotoshi mo yoroshiku onegaishimasu” means something along the lines of “I count on your good will for this year”. It’s usually shortened to “akemashite omedetō gozaimasu”. A recent trend among the youth is to say “akeome kotoyoro”.
4. 謹賀新年 kinga shinnen
You’ll see these kanji a lot during the new year period. They are written on new year cards and on decorations placed on the fronts of shops and houses.
5. 門松 kadomatsu
This is a traditional decoration made from pine branches placed in pairs in front of one’s house over the new year period as in the picture above. They are traditionally placed in front of the house to welcome ancestral spirits or the gods of the harvest.
6. お節料理 osechi ryōri
A traditional New Year in Japan wouldn’t be complete without osechi ryōri, beautifully presented food served in 重箱 juubako similar to bentō boxes.
A lot of the food in osechi ryōri preserves well so you can eat it over a few days with your family when many supermarkets and stores are closed. At least that was the case before 24 hour convenience stores and supermarkets.
The various dishes in each box convey various meanings to celebrate the new year including health, long life and fertility.
7. 初詣 hatsumōde
This is the first visit of the year to a Shinto shrine. All across Japan on January 1st, Shrines are full of people, praying for a good coming year.
8. 除夜の鐘 joya no kane
Temple bells are traditionally struck 108 times to announce the end of the year and the beginning of the new one. In Buddhism, 108 refers to the number of earthly desires human beings have and that the ringing of the bell can dispel.
9. 年越しそば toshikoshi soba
These are long noodles that are eaten during the beginning of the new year. They represent the idea of extending the fortunes of one’s family.
10. 年賀状 nengajō
A new year’s greeting card sent to family, friends and colleagues. They are posted before the new year and are usually delivered on 1st January.