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Annual Events in Japan

December: Omisoka

December 31st, the final day of the year, is called 'Omisoka.' 'Misoka' means the last day of each month. This is a busy day as people conduct a major cleaning and prepare traditional New Year's foods to welcome the Toshigami. The tradition of Omisoka began in the Heian period. The ringing of the temple bell 108 times on New Year's Eve and New Year's soba come to mind when people think of Omisoka.

Why is the temple bell rung 108 times?

The ringing of the temple bell 108 times is known as Joyanokane in Japanese. It's said that there are 108 worldly desires and that ringing the bell 108 times removes them and purifies the soul to welcome the new year.

Why is soba eaten on New Year's Eve?

There are a few theories regarding eating soba on New Year's Eve:
  • ・ Human life is long and slender, just like soba noodles
  • ・ Soba is immediately cut, and so, too, the troubles and hardships of the year are cut and cast away
  • ・ During the Edo Period, soba was cut round like dumplings. When gold and silversmiths did their Omisoka cleaning, gold and silver dust would fly around and collect in the soba. It was therefore known as a food with a good omen for collecting gold
  • ・ Even when battered by the wind and the rain, soba is a plant which soon rights itself in the sun

What is susuharai?

Susuharai is the end of year cleaning during Oshogatsu. People clean the house of soot and dust to welcome the Toshigami. During the Edogawa period, susuharai was December 13th as this was the date for starting Oshogatsu preparations.

Let's eat New Year's Soba while listening to the temple bells ringing 108 times, as we look back on this past year and welcome the New Year.