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Welcome to my blog!

If you are in for an adventure paired with lengthy, quirky, brutal honest thoughts then you are in the right place.

My name is Arisa and was a cosplayer for 12 years in Malaysia before settling down in Kyoto, Japan. Exploring Japan full time has been a long time dream of mine, so let's explore it together!
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Celebrating New Year in Japan (vs Chinese New Year)

Just realised that i never really shared much about New Year's celebration (also known as a "Shogatsu") in Japan on my blog, so i guess it's about time i wrote one though no one asked for it lol. But if you are curious on what an average Japanese family does during new year, then do read on!

Honestly, nothing extravagant and totally different from what we have back in Malaysia. Back in my home country during new year's eve, we'll usually plan countdown parties and such; there will be tons of booze and a feast, followed by massive colourful fireworks when the clock strikes 12 midnight. 

In Japan? 

We hibernate under the kotatsu, keeping our legs nice and toasty during winter while munching on mikan (oranges- because there are in season lol) and watching NHK's Kohaku - an annual new year's eve live song battle broadcast that goes on all night till countdown. This is how most of us outside of Tokyo are likely to celebrate our new year regardless pre or post-covid. Those in Tokyo, during pre-covid times would gather around famous locations like Shibuya crossing for a countdown, not sure what's the fun in that because its cold outside and i rather not get lost in a sea of bodies (you can see past drone pictures of the gatherings, it's massive!) lol. Gosh..i'm starting to sound like an old fart sia..๐Ÿ˜‚

Cleaning & Decorations

Before new year, it's like an unspoken rule to go on a Marie Kondo spree lol. 
Many of us would start cleaning, throwing out old stuff because who wants to start the new year with a filthy house right? Okay, maybe some don't mind but i do it because i wanna be lazy over the holidays without getting annoyed with mysterious pile of whatnots all around the house. I'm not OCD but i do have a limit before it gets to me lol, literal eyesore. 

But did you know that Japan also has a taboo that you shouldn't clean your house during the first 3 days of new year? It's quite similar to those old Chinese traditions because we were told to not sweep during Chinese New Year as we'll be "sweeping away" our good luck & fortune brought it by visiting deities. 
So yea, in Japan we put up various new year decorations (each has its own purpose) to welcome good luck in general for the first 3 days and by cleaning during this duration, we'll be "throwing" them out which defeats the purpose for the welcome decor lol. 

Common decorations that can be found at the entrances of houses (buildings in general) are Kadomatsu (้–€ๆพ) & Shimekazari (ใ—ใ‚้ฃพใ‚Š). We don't have a Kodomatsu this year but we hung up at Shimekazari at the entrance instead and another thing you should know about this decorating tradition is that there are certain grace periods to put it up. Putting it up last minute is not really recommended (so procrastinators like me gotta up our game lol) and avoid doing it on 29th & 31st. As 29th is belived to be an unlucky day because the pronunciation sounds like "suffer" and 31st is called "Ichiya Kazari" which means one-night decoration (a.k.a not sincere) lol. I know what's you guys are thinking at this rate, "so that means the safest last minute date to hang up is 30th right?"

I'm just going to say "No comment" because that's between you and Toshigami-sama* liao ๐Ÿ˜‚ But i'm sure there's a God of procrastination out there who would appreciate your efforts haha. But really, just try your best k?

*Deity who brings bountiful harvest & blessings

Decorations are usually removed on 7th after Toshigami-sama has left our world, but you can still see some hanging up till the 15th of Jan which isn't wrong eitherway. 

The small mikan on top of the Kagami Mochi replaces the original Daidai fruit which is usually larger and bitter. Daidai fruit was originally used as the word "Daidai" sounded like "generation after generation", though it's replaced with a more palatable & aesthetically pleasing citrus, the meaning behind it remains the same. 

Putting up Kagami mochi all around the house is said to "welcome luck" and it is also home to Toshigami-sama.

As for Kagami mochi (mirror mochi) we usually break them on the 11th of Jan, cook and eat it. You can prepare it however you want but the easiest would always be zenzai because nothing like a good hot bowl of red bean soup to warm you up during winter. The only taboo when preparing the kagami mochi is to NEVER cut it using a knife, break it with a hammer or whatever you want but never slice it as this action resembles Seppuku (ๅˆ‡่…น)- ritual disembowelment and it's a sign of ill luck. 

But nowadays, most modern kagami mochi comes in sealed plastic casings; this also prevents mold from growing as fresh mochi spoils really fast even when it's -1 degrees and doesn't last well in fridges either, so it's either you eat it immedietely or freeze it. For modern kagami mochi (you can get them in Daiso) because it's sealed, it will last for quite some time without spoiling and all you need to do is microwave it and it would be soft enough to consume.  

Kagami Mochi & Nian Gao

Putting up Kagami mochi does remind me of the Kuih Bakul (Nian Gao) we chinese put up on the altar as offerings; it's also made with almost similar ingredients except kuih bakul contains sugar hence the different color compared to the mochi which is tasteless.
And one of the tales i've heard from my mom, the reason behind putting up Nian Gao as food offering is to shut the mouth of one of the visiting deities (the Kitchen God) who comes into homes to check and report back. So when the deity's mouth is shut tight thanks to the stickiness of the Nian Gao, it can't badmouth/ gossip about us to other Gods ๐Ÿ˜‚  Not sure how true is this story because at the end of it, some suspicious eyebrows were raised but it's hilarous nonetheless. Thanks mom lol. 

But really, it's so good especially when fried in between yam or just served steamed and rolled in fresh desiccated coconut. 

We made zenzai with our Kagami mochi

Sending Out Nengajo

Okay this one probably not many young people would practice this anymore (including the danna). As technology took over snail mail more or less a decade ago, more people would rather just text a new year LINE greeting than having to hand write and stamp over 100pcs of postcards manually. And i'm not exaggerating about the 100pcs part because this is a very common sight among the elderly who would sit at the New Year stamping table in the post office, and hand stamp each post card one by one. 
The Nengajo culture is more or less something done out of formalities to acknowledge and greet your family, friends,co-workers, business partners, etc. Think of it like sending a Christmas or Chinese New Year Card. I remember 20 years ago every Christmas and CNY my parents would receive tons of greeting cards in the mail (the one and only time the postbox wasn't full with  bills lol) but over the years, hard copy greeting cards became obsolete and everyone just sends a e-card (hey, it's free). 

In Japan we have a large population of elderlies who either uses a flip phone or don't have one except a landline, so the only way they are going to get the word out is none other than good ol' snail mail. 

Post offices can be seen selling pre-paid nengajo as early as mid december, they usually have small makeshift booths outside of the post office to catch your attention. You can even buy them from the Konbini, there are 2 types of nenganjo you can get- ready designed and customizable type (self printed).
For customized ones, you can purchase a plain pre-paid stack which is cheaper than ready designed ones and most families would print their family pictures on it. We don't have a printer at home so we got the ready-designed ones and honestly it isn't as impressive as the customizable cards we received from friends and family *cries*

If it's your first time sending a Nengajo, make sure to take note of the writing format!

Here's a one i found online that's easy to understand: savvytokyo.com/nengajo
And if you are not sure what message to write on it, here are some samples: www.tokyoweekender.com/2020/12/nengajo

You can post your Nengajo in December and there are designated Nengajo postboxes, the post office will then sort and keep them till it's time to deliver. It will definitely reach on the 1st of January (they take Nengajo business really seriously lol) even if you posted it on the 31st December. It's preferable for your Nengajo to reach your intended recipient latest by 3rd January (before the New Year Holiday ends) but if you forgot to post out by 31st December, it's not too late to post it out on New Year's day itself. 

Also another important thing to know is that if someone recently passes away in your family**, you won't be able to send nor receive Nengajo for the following New Year's. Like how we are unable to do house visitations nor give out angpao* during CNY under similar circustances until 1 year grieving period is up. 

*red packets

**In Japan after the funeral, usually the grieving family will send out postcards to extended family and friends notifying about the recent departure hence to not send any Nengajo for New Year's.

Preparing Osechi Ryori

This has got to the most tedious yet rewarding part of Shogatsu preparations, like every part of the world- New Year is a big deal. The marking of a brand new year calls for a feast with friends and families but in Japan, it's not just an ordinary celebration and food but there is also a cultural significance to it. 

The food served during Shogatsu is called "Osechi Ryori" or "Osechi" for short.

This luxurious feast can only be found during Shogatsu and it's usually served in tiered lacquared bento like boxes called the "Jubako"
Jubako are considered a heirloom as these beautifully crafted boxes can cost an arm & leg, but now you can get a cheap version of it at Daiso for 500yen (like what i did lol).  

2021 marks my 3rd year new year in Japan and for the past 2 new year's we've been celebrating it at the danna's parents house with Osechi prepared lovingly by his grandmother despite being wheelchair bound. If that's not dedication and impressive, i don't know what else is at this point. 

Though it is easier to just pre-order ready made Osechi from restaurants or department stores (prices starts as low as 15,000yen and goes up depending how premium your menu is), but nothing beats home-made cooking and that was what i challenged myself with during the last 2 days of 2020 lol, i know I'm so "smart". ๐Ÿ˜‚
Not going to lie that halfway through the mess i was making in the kitchen, i was so tempted to just give up and order a ready-made one instead. You can find english translations of the recipe online, but the best way to learn is obviously through an experienced family member. Due to covid, it's best to not visit, so googling receipes will do. 

Here's the one that I used and the danna approved (he said tasted exactly like the real deal)- www.justonecookbook.com/osechi-ryori 
It's super detailed and easy to follow, just some seasonings you might want to tweak to your own preference. 

There's no right or wrong to Osechi, there are many varieties of it depending on which part of Japan you are living at and looking at all the recipes online, i won't blame you if you feel overwhelmed at first but the key is to make a shortlist. I've picked the ones that i found was "doable" especially for a newbie like myself and as for the ones i find abit challenging to make, i just bought ready-made from the grocery store. We definitely have more "cheats" available now compared to 20 years ago lol, back then is make every single thing from a scratch yo. 

Our Osechi Ryori Menu

Sweet Rolled Omelette (Datemaki) ไผŠ้”ๅทป - Knowledge
Candied Sardines (Tazukuri) ็”ฐไฝœใ‚Š - Abundance
Sweet Black Soybeans (Kuromame) ้ป’่ฑ† - Good health
Herring Roe (Kazunoko) ๆ•ฐใฎๅญ - Fertility
Daikon & Carrot Salad (Namasu) ็ด…็™ฝใชใพใ™ - Happiness & celebration (because of its colour)
Pickled Lotus Root (Su Renkon) ้…ขใ‚Œใ‚“ใ“ใ‚“ - Foreseeable Good Future
Pounded Burdock Root with Sesame Sauce (Tataki Gobo) ใŸใŸใใ”ใผใ† - Strength & stability
Simmered Chicken and Vegetables (Chikuzenni) ็ญ‘ๅ‰็…ฎ - Long lasting Happiness
Simmered Shrimp (Ebi no Umani) ใˆใณใฎใ†ใพ็…ฎ - Longevity
Salmon Kombu Roll (Kobumaki) ้ฎญใฎๆ˜†ๅธƒๅทปใ - Good lucky & prosperity
Yellowtail Teriyaki (Buri no Teriyaki) ใถใ‚Šใฎ็…งใ‚Š็„ผใ- Hope for success
Fish Cakes (Kamaboko) ใ‹ใพใผใ“้ฃพใ‚Šๅˆ‡ใ‚Š - Good luck

I honestly enjoyed this whole process despite it being exhausting and 48 hours of my life was spent in the kitchen lol. It really allows you to see things from a different perspective and to appriciate the foods served during Shogatsu. So now that you know how much time was spent slaving away, don't you dare waste a bite!

Osechi is eaten using not just ordinary chopsticks but a celebratory one called Iwai-bashi (็ฅ็ฎธ), this type of chopsticks has slender tips at both ends. Before eating ourselves, Osechi is given as a food offering to the deity first who then allows us to share the meal together using this special chopstick.  One side is used by us and the other end by the deity. 

Osechi is also meant to be enjoyed throughout the new year celebration that's why it's prepared before hand and not on new year's day itself, as there is a taboo saying that we are not allowed to use the stove during new year's to avoid bad luck. Though it's just some old folks' superstition, there is some logical truth to it as well. Back then houses were made of straw and wood which catches fire easily and as new year is a public holiday you won't be able to get help as easily, moreover it's in the middle of winter as well and that brings us to our current era which isn't any different lol. The one and only time of the year where Japan sorta "stops",  things like your usual clinics, pharmcies, banks, ATMs, etc will be closed for a couple of days. So if you do somehow encounter a fire or medical emergency, you are most likely out of luck as emergency standby teams are likely to be spread thin during this period. So do make sure to be careful!

During Chinese New Year Eve we also have a reunion feast which involves us sitting on a round table with a lazy susan in the middle filled to the brim with symbolic foods, almost similar to Japan's Osechi minus the Jubako. Back home we don't really ask "why" we are served this particular food during reunion as we are too busy getting stuffed but writing this post made me realised that is how the knowledge of culture and tradition fades. Because we stopped asking. If you have some time, do read up abit as CNY is approaching soon :)

Feasting 24/7

We were supposed to be feasting together with the Danna's family for Shogatsu but unfortunately no thanks to covid-19 we had to cancelled it this year to avoid putting elderly family members at risk.  

You can prepare your soba any style you want, I love Nishin soba so yea.

During the eve of Shogatsu (31/12) we would eat Toshikoshi Soba (ๅนด่ถŠใ—่•Ž้บฆ) - new year crossing soba to let go of the hardships we endured from the previous year as cooked soba noodles breaks easily with every bite and make sure to finish every last bit as it's considered bad luck to have any leftovers behind. 

Ozouni-Kansai style

Pre-covid days- On the first day of Shogatsu, we would usually gather at the danna's parents house to enjoy a hot bowl of ozouni (kansai style- white miso cooked with vegetable & mochi) made by his mother and followed by Osechi ryori which is prepared by his grandmother. There was definitely alot of eating and TV watching involved before we went for Hatsumode and all of this done before noon too lol. And eat some more while at the shrine as they do have tents selling warm food for Hatsumode-goers. 

There's actually a "special term" for Shogatsu weight gain, but i forgot the exact word lol. Let me check back with the danna and update this post later. 

Family Gathering/ Visitation

During the first day of Chinese New Year, we'll usually greet our elderlies first and wish them happy new year (or Gong Xi Fa Chai), in return for us who are unmarried will receive an Angpao (red packet) containing money. For Shogatsu, it's roughly the same but their red packet is called "Otoshidama" (New year money) and it comes in smaller size envelopes with various cute designs on it and doesn't necessary have to be in red.  

One thing i did notice is that new year in Japan is more of a "private" family affair, even visitations are often to direct family members unlike in Malaysia during CNY bai nian we would not only visit direct family members but also extended ones (to the point, not sure how are we even related but still visit out of courtesy lol), friends and even colleagues. If boss's open house, even better because there's sure a buffet + lion dance show going on haha. 

Kids would only follow along to collect angpao and at the end of it compared who has collected the most๐Ÿ˜‚

Chinese new year is really loud and bright, Shogatsu is the total opposite of it.
I still remember how shocked the danna was experiencing his first CNY lol, he was like "why so many house visitations?" and "really so many family members?" a total culture shock moment and yes, my late grandfather has 17 grandkids, banyak huat ah! ๐Ÿ˜‚ 

CNY in Malacca 2020 before Covid outbreak got serious in Malaysia. 

Hatsumode (ๅˆ่ฉฃ)
During pre-covid days on the eve of new year's, you'll find tons of people gathering at local shrines and temples for their Hatsumode (1st Shrine/temple visit of the year) and despite it being freezing cold outside, many would still wait till midnight. No fireworks or whatsover unlike what we have in Malaysia/ Singapore where massive fireworks will go off the minute the clock strikes 12am. 
Japan usually have fireworks during summer when they celebrate obon festival and they really go all out with the fireworks then. 

Our Hatsumode to Yasaka-jinja for 2021

Hatsumode 2020 at Kamigamo-jinja

Hatsumode 2019 at Kamigamo-jinja

We usually opt to go during the 2nd or 3rd day to avoid the 1st day crowd but generally Japanese would do their Hatsumode during the first 3 days of the new year (while they are still on holiday) to pray for a good year ahead. 

*2020 picture

During this time you can also bring back your old omamori (protection amulets), previous new year decorations, protection seals, etc to be returned and burned as a way of disposing them respectfully. There's usually a makeshift collection stand made for it, where you put in an offering (any amount is fine but 5-yen is the best because it sounds like "Good luck"), say thank you to your old omamori for its service and put it in the collection box. 

After that you can go ahead and get new ones for the year! 
Most people would also try their luck on omikuji (fortune papers) and if it reads "bad luck", you can tie it at a designated spot in the shrine/ temple as you don't want to bring that ill omen home. I remember getting small luck last year and glad that it's big luck this year, yay! I don't usually believe these predictions a 100% but it's just fun to try and also a way to contribute back some money to the Shrine/ temple.   

Getting new ones for 2021!

Fukubukuro & New Year Sales

Not going to lie, think this is one of the biggest sales of the year that every Japanese look forward too because I've seen many people actually line up really early just to get their hands of fukubukuro (lucky bags). Though some can be bought online by pre-ordering, most of them are usually sold at the physical store in limited quantities hence making them even more "exclusive". After Hatsumode, you'll see people flocking stores and malls to check out deals on their favourite brands and the crowd can get rather insane because you won't usually see brands throwing 70-80%  discounts that often. 

It's definitely a good time to shop and save money especially on off season goods (and also essential items). Gotta shop smart. 
I remember my first year staying in Japan, i went totally crazy with the sales because i've never seen anything like it but after the 2nd and 3rd, it's just "meh", let's go home to avoid the crowd lol. 

I've even written a post about how to shop for fukubukuro before, do check out the entry HERE  

And I've saved the best for the last lol- Laze around until Holiday is Over (legit yo!) It's like everyone becomes Gudetama just snuggling under the kotatsu and the only movement we make is rolling left and right haha. Very "productive" holiday indeed. 

Hope you guys learned a thing or two from this post, took me almost 2 weeks to type finish because i was lacking motivation halfway (brain going in all directions) from being too lazy over shogatsu lol. Time to snap out of holiday mood and get back to work. Writing this post made me realised that this is the first time in my entire life that I don't get to celebrate CNY with my family in Malaysia, being away from home all year round is already hard and this is the one thing i look forward to every year but unfortunately it's not meant to be. I'm sure there are many of us out here abroad, feeling homesick as well especially since CNY is just 2 weeks away. We are doing our part to keep our family safe, that's all that matters now. It might be a little lonely but hang in there, hopefully things will get better soon so we can see our families again. 

Also please send some bakwa and pineapple tarts over, TQVM.     
Kidding, don't send bakwa lol, later custom throw it away and fine me but do send cookies ๐Ÿ’•

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Yours Truly,

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