The New Year in Japan is Centered Around Wellness


While Christmas tends to be the most important occasion of the holiday season in major parts of the world, it is New Year’s that is by far the more celebrated and revered national event across Japan. 

Observed from December 31 to January 3, the Japanese New Year is traditionally a close-knit and contemplative affair, where people gather together with their families and friends to pause, reflect, and prepare for the year ahead. Over the course of these few days, people follow a host of different customs and rituals that support the purification and renewal of the mind, body, and spirit. It also helps to drive a reevaluation of their surroundings – including their living spaces – in order to tap into a wellspring of inner peace and connection that this time of year so readily offers.

It is this philosophy of cleansing the self both mentally and physically that Jisa Oh, founder of Wellness East, incorporates into her New Year practices. Oh and her family enjoy quiet time for the allotted days, cherishing moments of calmness through such activities like praying, reading, and savoring delicious food to recharge themselves before what is usually a hectic oncoming year. She also takes the time to write down her goals in a journal and visit hot springs to heal and balance herself.

Oh’s rituals also include a little help from several Wellness East products that lend to greater purification, one of which being the integration of the Hinoki Wood Body Brush. This crucial detoxing exercise is particularly adhered to at this time of the year as dry brushing is believed to help the body release toxins through sweat. The bristles on the brush work to stimulate the pores and open them up, making it easier for the body to release sweat and thereby the amount of toxins flowing through the lymphatic system. Following up with the Alpinia Shell Ginger Glow Oil after dry brushing helps to lock in moisture on the skin.

Another beloved practice to work into New Year’s customs is clearing the energy of your space with incense to welcomes a more positive flow. Ancient cultures used to burn sage and other herbs, which has been scientifically proven to release negative ions and improve one’s mood. The Hako Incense, which comes in the scents of each season, can be used daily to set the tone for your wellness ritual or anytime you feel in need of an energetic boost. Additionally, the Hako Incense is the perfect companion for meditation, helping to quiet the mind, increase concentration, and even – for some meditators – replace a timer.

With so many customs and rituals to observe over four days, here are six key happenings that help to usher in the New Year: 

  • Osouji (Deep Cleaning)
    The Japanese people typically like to start the year with a clean slate, so on New Year’s Eve they will do a big winter cleaning dubbed osouji. Here, their homes are thoroughly dusted, swept, scrubbed, and organized from top to bottom. This ritual also helps to welcome in the Shinto deity Toshigami, who is believed to visit each home bringing good health and luck for the year ahead.

  • Yuzuburo (Yuzu Bath)
    Yuzu has been used for a variety of purposes in Japan for centuries, beyond just the flavorful seasoning that it has become primarily known for. This citrus fruit, which is cultivated within Southeast Asian and looks like a small grapefruit with uneven skin, has been used in bathing rituals dating back to at least the early 18th century. Left whole to release their aroma or cut in half to allow the citrus juice to mingle with the bathwater, the yuzu in yuzuburo helps to cleanse the body of negative vibes, guard against colds, treat rough skin, and relax the mind. 

  • Joya no Kane (Bell Ringing)
    At the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve, Buddhist temples all over Japan ring their bonsho – temple bells – exactly 108 times as part of a process called Joya no Kane. Each ring represents a worldly human desire, which according to Buddhist faith leads to pain and suffering. The ritual of Joya no Kane is meant to drive away these negative emotions from the past year. 

  • Toshikoshi Soba (Eating Soba Noodles)
    When it comes to the food eaten on New Year’s Eve, a big tradition in Japanese culture is enjoying Toshikoshi soba with family and friends. These soba noodles are narrow and lengthy and are intended to symbolize longevity and luck. Additionally, soba is easy to cut, and this dish is thought to cut off suffering and disasters for the new year. Other foods savored during this time include osechi, prepared food served in a lacquer box that resembles a bento box, and ozoni, a special broth soup with bites of chewy mochi.

  • Hatsuhinode (First Sunrise)
    Though it holds the moniker “the land of the rising sun”, Japan is not the country where the sun rises first. On New Year’s morning, though, it is custom to observe the first sunrise. Known as hatsuhinode, people arise in the cold of the winter to celebrate the dawning of the sun before partaking in other customs of the day.

  • Hatsumode (Shrine Visit)
    Whether going on January 1, 2, or 3, the people of Japan make it a point to celebrate the New Year with a trip to a shrine or temple. During their visits, people give thanks for the year that just passed, as well as pray for good health, wealth, divine protection, and everyday luck in the upcoming year.