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More Okinawan Tradition

Date Posted: 2001-12-27

Nengajo: A most important New Year’s task

The busiest person in Japan during the New Year’s season is the mailman, since virtually all individuals and businesses send New Year’s cards called “nengajo” to friends, relatives, acquaintances, customers and business associates. Almost 4 billion cards are sent every year, and as the Post Office holds the cards to be delivered all together on Jan. 1 to each recipient, one can but wonder how the Japanese postal service manages to handle this logistical nightmare without a glitch year after year.

The design of nengajo can be anything, but pictures of the Chinese symbol for the coming year are popular. The card also should have the greeting “Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu,” meaning “Congratulations for the New Year.” The government has printed nengajo with lottery numbers on them since 1950, offering the recipient a chance to win a cash prize. Tradition dictates that the cards should be handwritten, with each having a small, personalized greeting from the sender. That can be quite a burden since some people can end up sending hundreds of cards.

Kadomatsu welcome spirits of the new year

Local people usually decorate the entrance to their homes or businesses with a “kadomatsu,” an arrangement featuring a pine branch and three pieces of bamboo arranged together. This custom was originally observed to welcome the spirits of the new year, but it is now considered just another traditional New Year’s decoration.

Temple visit is essential for success

The most commonly observed custom over the New Year’s holiday is the year’s first visit to a local temple or shrine. This is called “hatsumode,” and it is estimated that more than two-thirds of Japan’s entire population observe the custom during the first three days of the new year. During the visit, people pray for a good and successful year.

So many people go to a shrine or temple on New Year’s Eve night that reaching the altar to offer one’s prayers can take several hours of waiting in a dense crowd. The most popular temples and shrines in Okinawa are Naminoue Jingu in Naha, Gokoku Jinja in Onoyama Park, also in Naha City, Futenma-gu Shrine on Highway 330 in Futenma and Narita Temple

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