Mai and her sweet daughter Emma live in Tokyo! In this article, they share all about their country’s Christmas and New Year traditions. Travel to Japan and learn about their festive season.
What is Christmas like in Tokyo?
Christmas is the season of the year when the city shines the most. The trees are beautifully lit up, Christmas carols are played in the streets and Christmas markets are held in various places bringing a festive feeling to the capital.
Several chefs hold events for children. Emma loved taking part and making her own gingerbread house. Japan is gradually adopting wonderful Christmas traditions from various countries. It’s fun to bring novelty to our celebrations.
Can you describe your typical Christmas?
We decorate our home with a Christmas tree and prepare an Advent calendar to count down the days until Christmas.
One of my favorite things to do is make a wreath out of roses and mistletoe from my garden. I enjoy creating handmade decors.
When I was little, my mother used to make delicious buche de noel and spiced cookies to decorate the Christmas tree. To this day, we continue baking cookies together as a family. When the scent spreads throughout the house, we can truly feel the spirit of Christmas! It puts us into such a joyful mood.
This is my recipe :
Cookies (20 pieces)
- 35g unsalted butter
- 75g honey
- 45g caster sugar
- 200g cake flour
- 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- a little anise powder
- a little ginger powder
- 2 tsp cocoa
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 20g egg (I use the egg white to brush the cookies to give them that pretty color when they bake)
1. Put the butter, honey, and white sugar in a saucepan and heat until melted, then turn off the heat and allow to cool.
2. Put the flour and salt in a bowl and add the mixture prepared in step 1 with a wooden spoon, then add the egg.
3. Knead the dough with your hands until it is no longer powdery, then wrap it in plastic and leave it to rest in a cool place for a day.
4. Sprinkle a baking sheet with flour (not included) and roll out the dough to a thickness of 5 mm.
5. Press the dough with a mold and brush with egg white.
6. Bake in a preheated oven at 160°C for 20 minutes or 130°C for 5 minutes, depending on the temperature.
Do you have other special traditions?
Yes, at my daughter's nursery, the mothers make surprise Christmas stockings for their children with presents in them. In December, once my daughter was fast asleep, I would sew stitch by stitch, imagining the joy on my daughter’s face when she would open it... It may be a little different from the original Christmas stocking, but it is so soothing to make and brings me joy!
We also love to dress up in fancy Christmas dresses, wear our red velvet Charlotte sy Dimby dress, pair it with our favourite Verity Jones bows and twirl as much as we can!
Can you please tell us all about the New Year in Japan?
Yes, I am very happy to introduce you to the New Year traditions in Japan. We usually do a full house clean up on New Year's Eve and eat toshikoshi soba which is basically a noodle bowl. When soba is made, the dough is cut in a long and slender form, which is said to represent a long and healthy life.
We then listen to the New Year's bell. The temple bell rings 108 times after midnight. With each ring, our worries and sorrows go away leaving space for a fresh new year and beginning. This Buddhist tradition is called Joya no Kane, and it is one of the most important rituals of the year.
And on New Year's morning, we greet one another with the traditional, "Happy New Year" and deliver cards to our friends’ postboxes.
Families and relatives near and far gather to welcome the god of the new year. We all go “hatsumode”. Hatsumode refers to visiting a shrine or temple for the first time to give thanks for the year gone by and pray for the coming onr.
We also put up “kadomatsu” and “shimenawa” at the entrance of our houses. These decorations often made of pine, bamboo and plum trees are meant to prevent bad spirits from entering the house and making them welcoming for the gods of the new year. As an offering to the gods, kagami-mochi, which is made up of large and small rice cakes, is displayed. This is eaten after the New Year, as a way to wish everyone a happy year.
Omikuji fortune telling for the year is also very popular.
There are so many other fun things to do in the New Year's Day in Japan, such as New Year's gifts, kite flying and battledore. When you have a chance to come to Japan, please try them out!
Do you have typical outfits for the New Year?
Nowadays, fewer people wear our traditional kimonos for the New Year, but we still wear them for certain special events like Shichigosan which celebrates the growth of children. In Japan, there is a culture of wearing them on special occasions.
The traditional New Year's meal is composed of ozoni and osechi. Ozoni is a soup that contains ingredients such as rice cakes, vegetables, and meat. The recipe varies depending on the region. In the past, when people ate ozoni, it was a way to show gratitude for the safe harvest of the previous year and a prayer for a good harvest to come and the safety of their families.
This is my recipe for ozoni (for 4 persons)
- ︎200g chicken breast
- ︎50g carrot
- ︎8 taro
- ︎50g Japanese radish
- ︎8 snow peas
- ︎4 rice cakes
- ︎kamaboko（Fish Cake）
- ︎salmon roe
- ︎mitsuba (Japanese parsley）
- ︎peel of yuzu
- ︎2 tablespoons light soy sauce
- ︎800ml dashi (Japanese soup stock）
※ Vegetables can be any vegetables as you like.
1. Boil the chicken and vegetables cut into bite-size pieces in soup stock.
2. Grill the rice cakes until browned.
3. Pour dashi stock, light soy sauce and salt into a pot and bring to a boil.
4. Put the pre-boiled chicken, vegetables, and rice cake into soup bowls and pour the dashi over the top.
5.Finish with mitsuba , yuzu peel and salmon roe.
Osechi is a variety of food packed in a bento box. Each one has a special symbolism such as "gratitude", "joy", "celebration"... For example, black soybeans have the meaning of praying for good health, kurikinton for saving money, and clams and abalone for good connections.
Thank you for this beautiful article and thank you to Yumiko from Verity Jones Japan for your help for the translation.
Verity Jones founded in London offers fine handmade British bows in a wide palette of colours and sizes designed by the tasteful and elegant Julia Jones. A wide range of these gorgeous accessories are available in Japan straight through Verity Jones Japan. The Japanese ones have a special V embroidery adding a refined finishing touch.
The article in Japanese can be found here.
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