The New Year is a time of rich tradition in Japan, with family and friends gathering for days to celebrate the occasion. From writing intentions to eating symbolic foods, here are three of my favorite new year rituals, rooted in my Japanese heritage:
Perform the Kakizome Ritual
One of my favorite traditions is “kakizome” – writing my goals or resolutions for the coming year on special calligraphy paper using sumi ink and a brush.
This ancient custom originated as a court ritual during the Heian period (794-1192 AD). Sumi ink is prepared by grinding an ink stick against an inkstone with a little bit of water. In the past, the first water drawn from the well on New Year’s Day was used, and the calligraphy was written while facing in the auspicious direction for that year. Although today we no longer need to draw water from a well, I like to approach the ritual with my mind fresh and clear, just as if I was using new water.
I begin by focusing on my breathing. Then, I grind the ink, fill my brush, and write the characters mindfully, appreciating each part of the process while envisioning positive images for the year. This year, I chose the character 広 which means “to expand” because my mission is to bring the magic of tidying up to more people around the world.
While it’s best to use sumi ink and a calligraphy brush, a notebook and a pen will work if it is difficult for you to source the supplies. I invite you to try kakizome and see what happens when you write out and meditate on your New Year’s resolution!
Eat Osechi Ryori
In Japan, we begin the year with a traditional, symbolic meal called “osechi ryori.” Each dish – arranged beautifully in square layered boxes known as “jubako” – has a meaning that represents a wish for the coming year. As we taste the food, we also savor its meaning, motivating us to make the coming year a great one. Some common examples of osechi dishes and their meanings include:
- Fish cake – alternating slice of pink and white symbolize protection from evil and purity
- Lotus root – with holes that can be seen through, it symbolizes good future prospects
- Burdock root – because the root digs deep, it symbolizes a family rooted in many generations
- Herring-roe – with its tightly packed eggs, it symbolizes the blessing of many children and grandchildren
You don’t have to use Japanese foods to enjoy this ritual – choose traditional cuisine from your culture. For example, eggs represent birth and beginnings, so if you eat eggs on New Year’s Day, imagine yourself starting off the year healthy and energized. If you eat nutrient-rich greens like spinach, think of making this year fresh and vital. In this way, you can turn even an ordinary meal into a special celebration – a great start to a new year!
Use Something New
Simply replacing one old item with a new one can maximize your appreciation of the New Year. If you aren’t sure where to begin, I suggest starting with underwear. According to feng shui, the underwear you choose to wear on New Year’s Day sets the tone for the whole year. Ever since I found that out, I’ve started off the year wearing brand new, white underwear. White symbolizes new beginnings, so breaking out something white allows me to begin the year feeling refreshed.
Of course, it doesn’t need to be underwear. Replace something that you use often, like a toothbrush, towels or socks – or simply take out a new kitchen sponge that you already have in stock!
Let’s infuse fresh energy into our lives and make this year one that truly sparks joy.
Calligraphy and photo by Aoi Yamaguchi