If by some chance you forget that 2014 is the year of the horse, shop owners are quick to remind you. Images of horses are literally everywhere. Starting with the New Year's cards, of course. While in the West we usually send Christmas (or more generically - Holiday) greetings to our friends and relatives, in Japan there is no such custom. Instead, the tradition here is to send New Year's cards, not only to friends and relatives, but to anyone we deem important enough to receive one. In some cases that number can go into hundreds.
Sometimes though, in very special circumstances, it is not appropriate to send someone a New Year's card. This is usually the situation when that someone had a death in the family during the year.
I love to look at Japanese New Year's cards. Some of them can be quite inventive. Oh look, a horse on a bicycle! How cool is that?
But how come the year of the horse is marked in Japan? Isn't it a Chinese tradition? Yes, it is. But while the Chinese stick to the lunar calendar and their year of the horse will begin on January 31st 2014, the Japanese went the easy way and celebrate it according to the western calendar. And thus, the year of the horse begins on January 1st in Japan.
New Year is a huge holiday in Japan. Probably the most important family occasion in the whole year. This is the day that everyone wants to spend with their family. People travel hundreds of kilometers to be with their loved ones, eat traditional New Year foods, visit shrines (shinto) or temples (buddhism) and ask higher powers for a good and prosperous year.
The homes are decorated as well. You can find kagami mochi almost everywhere you look. This decoration consists of two flat round rice cakes placed on top of each other, topped off with a bitter orange. It's supposed to bring good health and good luck. And we all could use more of that, right?
Here, you can see them with a miniature daruma doll on top. Daruma doll is also a very important symbol for the New Year.
On doors and entrances you can see shimekazari, a twisted rope and rice straw decoration. It is believed to ward off evil spirits and it marks the dwelling as a sacred place.
My New Year's cards are all written and posted, the house I'm staying at is beautifully decorated (whether it's been cleaned top to bottom, well let's keep it a secret) and I am horsing around the table trying all sorts of yummy foods.
Happy New Year everyone! Of the Horse! Of course!