初 (はつ)

Happy New Year everyone! I hope you all had a good christmas and fun celebrations 🙂 As my first post of the year I’ve decided on the word hatsu (初) meaning first in Japanese.

New year, or お正月 (oshougatsu) in Japan is very important. People have time off and go back to their home towns. They do a big end of the year cleaning called お掃除 (osouji), to start the year afresh, and prepare お節料理 (osechi ryouri). Osechi ryouri is a composed of several small dishes which people can eat for a couple days, and not worry about having to prepare food. Leaving more time to relax and enjoy the festivities. On New Year’s Eve, Japanese also eat what is called 年越しそば (toshi koshi soba). This is a type of noodle dish which is believed to help you get rid of the hardships of the year gone (because soba is easily cut while eating). Be sure to finish it before midnight though or you’ll bring in bad luck 😉 Finally one of the most important traditions on New Year’s Eve is the ringing of the bells: 除夜の鐘 (joya no kane), rung 108 times in accordance to buddhist beliefs that there are 108 worldly desires we must rid ourselves to reach enlightenment.

And there are many more customs and traditions surrounding New Year in Japan. But let’s move on with my topic for today: hatsu:

初日の出 (hatsu hi no de): Many will welcome the New Year by staying up to watch the first sunrise, as it is believed the sunrise has special supernatural powers and is the best time to pray for health and a good year.

初詣 (hatsumoude): the first shrine visit of the year, where people pray, return their old omamori (lucky charms) and buy new ones, as well as buying omikuji (fortune paper).

初夢 (hatsu yume): the first dream of the year. Said to be an indication of the luck of the dreamer for the new year to come. To have the best of luck though, what you really want to dream about is Mt. Fuji, a hawk or an eggplant, often known as  一富士二鷹三茄子 (ichi fuji ni taka san nasu). This is because Fuji is the highest mountain in Japan, the Hawk is a clever and strong bird, and eggplant has the same sound as 成す (nasu) which means to accomplish, to achieve, to succeed.

初売り (hatsu uri): the first sale of the year. And this, in Japan, also means fukubukuro (lucky bags)! Shops will fill bags with contents that they sell at a set price. Usually the bags are at a discounted price to attract customers, and some shops will even throw in expensive items which are worth way more than the price you payed. There will often be long lines for this, as people try their luck even in the worst weather conditions, such as with the Apple store this year.

Apple lucky bags 2015

書き初め (kakizome): the first writing, or the first calligraphy of the year. This is a very traditional event usually done on the 2nd of January, where people write auspicious words or phrases. In the past it was customary to write poems, but now it is usually a single character. Every year on January 5th several calligraphers will gather at Nippon Budokan to write kakizome. 

So there you have it! A few hatsu (初) or firsts to start you off. If you know of any other hatsu traditions in Japan let me know in the comments below. In the mean time, I might just try my hand at kakizome 😉 Happy New Year everyone!

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