New Years in Japan – How to Celebrate

So it’s holiday season in Japan. Christmas and New Years are both coming up, and it’s the time for gift giving, partying, being with family right? Yes, but not like the typical American would expect. Christmas is actually party time in Japan, where companies and friends hold get together’s. Maybe for a small few presents are given (namely Christians in Japan), but the majority of presents given on Christmas are more of a potluck style. New Years, however, is a time for serious family get together and celebration.

Celebrating New Years is a three day event in Japan. The first day, Jan. 1st, comprises eating special food called “osechi ryori”: When you wake up on January 1st you’re supposed to eat crab, shrimp, specially prepared roots, potatoes, etc. Each combination of food will bring you a different kind of luck in the new year. These baskets of specially prepared food can be bought at your local department store, and generally run about 100 dollars or so.

After eating, Jan 1st through 3rd are the most important 3 days of the year for a Japanese shrine. Families get together, dress up in formal wear such as a kimono, and visit their local shrines (and larger famous ones, depending on your preference) to bring in the New Year. While at a shrine on New Years everyone buys an arrow, a symbol of good luck for the coming year. As a foreigner myself, I always forgot to do the second part of the ceremony, and that was bring your old arrow in from last year and burn it in a communal fire. After receiving the arrow, every visitor needs to line up and pray for the coming year, and ring the bell of the shrine for good luck.

Culturally celebrating New Years in Japan is a unique experience, but of course any article about celebrating New Years  wouldn’t be complete without teaching how to say “Happy New Year.” In Japanese, it’s three words: akemashite omedeito gozaimasu.

1 – A KE MA SHI TE (A as in HA sound, KE as in OKAY, MA as in WOMAN, SHI sounds like SHE, TE as in LATTE)

akemashite represents the coming of the new year, literally “opening”

2 – O ME DEI TO (O as in hoe, ME as in MAY, DEI as in DAY, TO as in TOTAL)

omedeito means congratulations

3 – GO ZAI MA SU (GO as in go, ZAI as in Zaion, MA as in WOMAN, SU sounds like SUE)

gozaimasu is a word that adds formality to the expression

So the expression literally means “I formally congratulate you on the opening of a new year”

I hope you enjoyed learning about how to celebrate new years in Japan. Next time you have the opportunity to ask a Japanese person about celebrating the new year in Japan, please say “akemeashite omedeito gozimasu” and ask about their experiences with osechi ryori and shrine visits. Culturally and linguistically it should be an interesting conversation!

Murder in Japan: Suspect charged in the killing of Lindsay Hawker

It was a dreadful night on March 24, 2007. Lindsay Hawker was an English teacher at Nova, a well known language school in Japan. She had met Tatsuya Ichihashi by chance in a café a few days earlier, and that night had agreed to go up to his room. The next day she was found dead in his apartment.

The evidence was overwhelming against Tatsuya Ichihashi. Lindsay’s body had been found in a bathtub on the balcony filled with sand and other materials, which Ichiro had been purchasing from the local hardware store. The taxi cab driver had been told to wait for Lindsay to come back down from Ichiro’s apartment, but she never returned. He also fled the scene once police officers arrived.

Ichiro had evaded arrest until late November 2009 when police finally caught up with him in Osaka. Today the newspapers reported the official “charges” being brought by the court against Tatsuya Ichihashi.

Asahi “The Chiba District Attorney charges Hayashi with Rape Killing” On December 23rd the district attorney’s office in Chiba prefecture charged Tatsuya Ichihashi (originally brought up abandoning a corpse charges) with rape killing. The decision was based on the fact that Hayashi had an intent to kill when he raped Lindsay on the evening of March 24, 2007.

The Chiba Court claims that Ichihashi bound her hands together, hit her many times in the face, and killed her by suffocation. Ichihashi has yet to enter a plea, according to the Asahi.

Nikkei “Hayashi is charged again, this time with Rape Killing. The court is to include a Citizen Jury System” The clear difference between the Nikkei and the Asahi’s account of the incident is the Nikkei commented on the trial being decided by Japan’s “Citizen Jury System.” This would be a ground breaking case, as the Japanese jury system was just introduced this past year.

The Nikkei also mentioned Ichihashi’s defense, claiming “Lindsay cried out very loudly. I put my arms around her from behind to hug her, not to kill her.”

Strong Yen – Japanese Reactions to their Inflated Currency

The Japanese economy has had some bad news in past weeks. The index that measures new housing starts in Japan went down 27.1% in October. The historic news that JAL is lowering their retirement payouts still rocks the news, along with institutions posting historic unbalanced budgets, including JTB and the Bank of Japan.

Usually at the forefront of bad economic news are the effects felt from a strong yen. In an export driven economy with the dollar weakening and the yen strengthening, Japanese exports continue to become more expensive when compared with their competition. The newspapers this morning reported on the yen strengthening and the reactions to it.

Asahi Prime Minister Hatoyama exclaimsWe must do something quickly” The Prime Minister, in an interview with the Asahi newspaper, answered questions about the Dubai economic summit he recently attended. When asked about the weakening stock market and the strengthening yen, he responded by talking about the weak dollar and its effects: “I’ve held meetings previously in Japan about this, but basically my thoughts have not changed. There’s been a strong movement of buying another currency in the face of the weakening dollar; in fact I think only the yen has really experienced such strong appreciation. Something must be done quickly in order to keep Japan the second strongest economy in the world.”

Nikkei “From the first Itoyokado starts its 20-50% off sale” In light of the strengthening yen, Itoyokado from December 1st to December 3rd has decided to drop its prices 20-50%. According to the Nikkei, because the Yen’s getting stronger, Itoyokado anticipates that they can buy groceries such as fruit and pork at a lower price.

For example, American made pork will go on sale for 34% off, to 84 yen per 100 grams. Salmon imported from Chile will be 25% off, to 88 yen per 100 grams.

YomiuriStock Market and Strengthening Yen Policy Announced” Prime Minister Hatoyama announced a plan to combat a volatile market on September 29th, according to the Yomiuri. Just like the Asahi the Yomiuri also mentioned the prime minister’s concern about rising stock prices and a falling yen, but they noted the specifics of how the plan will combat these two things has yet to be determined.

Thanksgiving in Japan – Celebrating and Enjoying the Holiday

Thanksgiving is one of those holidays you’d expect to be an American only holiday. After all, according to our elementary school education it celebrates American pilgrims and Native Americans coming together to celebrate, eat, and give thanks. Why would a country like Japan, whose history starts 1,000 years before America, celebrate Thanksgiving?

Surprisingly, Japan does celebrate Thanksgiving. Not surprisingly, the official holiday, called Thanksgiving Labor Day, was started after the American Occupation in 1948. Thanksgiving in Japan is an opportunity for unions and other workers to celebrate their hard worked days of labor through parades, parties, and well an actual day off.

As an American living in Japan though it wasn’t easy to celebrate the holiday. Although the Japanese do have an official holiday to commemorate Thanksgiving, no traditional American “Thanksgiving” foods are served in people’s households. It’s also extremely difficult to find a prepared turkey, and only select foreign grocery stores in Tokyo carry them. Once you’ve found a turkey though, in my mind you basically have two options for celebrating Thanksgiving in Japan:

The first way to celebrate Thanksgiving in Japan is to have an actual party at your house, a potluck of traditional thanksgiving foods. Don’t be surprised though if people show up with California rolls, seaweed salad, shrimp chips, and other traditional Japanese foods. It’s always fun in Japan to do a potluck because not only do the Japanese attend but its highly possible Australians, British, Singaporeans, Chinese, and other multicultural friends will all come to your Thanksgiving feast. The greatest part about having a multicultural thanksgiving is most people say “This is my first Thanksgiving,” so you feel like you’re almost experiencing it yourself for the first time.

The second option for celebrating Thanksgiving in Japan (which in my opinion isn’t as fun as the first), is to go to your local American Club or other select restaurant that offers Thanksgiving dinner. Basically anywhere in Asia where American ex-pats live select restaurants will prepare a Thanksgiving feast. For anywhere from 30-100 or so dollars you can get a traditional Thanksgiving meal buffet style, just don’t be surprised if you have to order in Japanese.

Thanksgiving in Japan is a memorable experience, one that if you’re in Japan during Thanksgiving my recommendation is to host your own party or attend a local buffet. I’m sure there are other options for celebrating Thanksgiving in Japan, and please feel free to add commentary to this article about that or ask other questions.