The Japanese little New Year: koshougatsu
Did you know that in Japan, not so long after the New Year’s celebrations, Japanese people celebrate the festival of the Little New Year? Historically, the “koshougatsu” took place around mid-February, celebrating the first full moon of the year, but nowadays the festival takes place on the 15th of January. The rites and customs are celebrated from the 12th to the 16th in some regions of Japan.
The Japanese New Year, called shougatsu, is constructed with the kanji for correct, original, 正 and the kanji for moon, 月, meaning literally “the principal month”. The Little New Year is constructed with the kanji for small, little, 小. By opposition, the New Year can be called the “big” New Year with the kanji for big, 大 and will be read as “ooshougatsu”. The koshougatsu symbolizes the end of the New Year festivities and decorations are taken down.
In rural area, on the night of the 14th of January or on the morning of the 15th, Japanese people hold the “dondo yaki” (どんど焼き) also called “sagichou” (左義長) event, during which they burn bundle of straw and bamboo but also old charms, rice cakes and even fruits. It is said that this custom helps maintening one’s youth… It is also the perfect time to eat delicious rice cake and dango!
On the morning of the koshougatsu, Japanese family eat a rice gruel with azuki beans called “azukigayu” (小豆粥). The bean symbolizes health and this custom which came from China is said to protect the health of the family during the whole year.
Senpai to kouhai no kaiwa:
A: Senpai, koshougatsu tte ichi gatsu nan nichi deshita kke?
B: Toukyou dattara ichi gatsu juu go nichi da yo
A: Asatte janaissu kaa, azukigayu no zairyou kawanakyadesu ne!
B:Na nda sorya?
Discussion between a senior and a junior:
A: What day of January is the Little New Year again?
B: For Tokyo, it is on the 15th of January.
A: Isn’t it after tomorrow?! I have to buy the ingredients for the Azuki rice gruel!
B: What was that?!
During the koshougatsu, Japanese people pray for a good harvest and hold religious rites at temples and shrines. Very similar to the first of the year visit to the temple (hatsumode), they will visit their local shrines Japanese people will also offer cocoon shaped mochi to their ancestors’ altars and conduct fertility rites. Depending on the region, many events take place dedicated to ancestral spirits. For example, in Yamagata prefecture, people will wear god masks and distribute rice cake to people’s homes. In Kyoto, people will go eat red bean porridge at temples and shrines. Therefore, the Little New Year has several names: the “Second New Year” (二番正月), the “Flower New Year” (花正月) or the “Woman New Year” (女正月). The Woman New Year, “onna shougatsu” combining the kanji for woman 女 with New Year’s kanji is a recognition of women’s work during the year till the New Year.