We greeted over 6,000 visitors to JANM on January 8, 2023 as we welcomed in the Year of the Rabbit with oodles of family-friendly activities. Families of all ages enjoyed the New Year festivities including hand-sculpted candy-making demonstrations to craft activities and mochi (rice cake) pounding performances.
The occasion brought together those with Japanese ancestry keen to pass on cultural traditions to their young ones and others who came to share a memorable experience.
This is the first hybrid JANM Oshogatsu Family Festival since the pandemic. The all-day festival featured a range of events such as the improv comedy performance by Cold Tofu, the nation’s longest running AsianAmerican improv group, and the dynamic, large-scale calligraphy performance by Kunihara Yoshida.
Enjoy some highlights from the 2023 Oshogatsu Family Festival!
Watch the highlights from the 2023 Oshogatsu Family Festival! (available for a limited time only)
February 19 marks the official beginning of the Year of the Sheep, according to the most common interpretation of the ancient lunar calendar that has been used throughout Asia for centuries. On that day, many Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese communities will hold their traditional New Year celebrations. For the Japanese, however, it will more or less be a day like any other.
Japan is unique among Asian countries in that it is the only one that celebrates New Year on January 1, like the Western world. This custom can be traced back to 1872, when the Meiji government decided to abolish the lunar calendar and adopt the Gregorian calendar, believing the latter to be scientifically superior.
The Meiji Era, which lasted from 1868 through 1912, was a period of rapid progress and sweeping Western influence in Japan, as the country began its transition from an isolated feudal society to a modern one of “enlightened rule.” For the Japanese citizens of the time, the lunar calendar was a symbol of the old ways; in fact, the modern Japanese word for Lunar or Chinese New Year is kyushogatsu, meaning “old or outdated new year.” Adopting the Gregorian calendar, which was in use throughout the trading nations of Europe and America, meant keeping in step with the times.
In spite of this outlook however, the Japanese have retained many of their cherished New Year traditions; they simply practice them during the days immediately before and after January 1. JANM’s Oshogatsu Festival, for example, takes place on the first Sunday after January 1. The festival adapts several popular New Year traditions for a large and diverse crowd, including pounding mochi, eating buckwheat noodles, and sampling special New Year dishes like kamaboko (fish cakes) and kuri kinton (puréed sweet potatoes).
JANM wishes everyone a Happy Lunar New Year. We look forward to welcoming you to our museum many times during the Year of the Sheep.
One of the most important holidays celebrated in Japan is Oshogatsu, meaning “new year” in Japanese. A number of festive customs characterize Oshogatsu celebrations, including the preparation and eating of traditional new year foods called osechi-ryori.
Osechi-ryori are typically presented in ornate boxes called jubako. Each osechi dish has a special celebratory meaning. For example, kamaboko, or fish cakes, are placed in alternating rows of white and red, resembling the rising sun. Ebi are prawns cooked in sake and soy sauce; with their long beards and bent waists, prawns symbolize a wish for a long life. Kuri kinton, or puréed sweet potatoes kneaded with sugar, is an auspicious dish believed to bring wealth because the sweet potatoes look gold in color.
Another food-oriented new year custom is the making of rice cakes, or mochi. Although mochi is now commonly sold and eaten year-round, it is traditionally a Japanese new year food, made in a ceremony called mochitsuki. Boiled sticky rice is put into a wooden, bucket-like container and patted with water by one person while another person hits it with a large wooden mallet. Pounding the rice eventually forms it into a rice cake.
The mochi is then made into a decorative item called kagami mochi (sometimes called okasane), formed from two round mochi cakes with a Japanese orange (daidai) placed on top. The name daidai is auspicious because it also sounds like the Japanese phrase meaning “generation to generation,” evoking long life and the continuity of the generations. The mochi itself symbolizes the past year and the year to come; thus, kagami mochi signifies the continuity of the family over the years.
Similarly, soba (buckwheat) noodles, with their strands that seem to go on forever, are also eaten for good luck and longevity. One must finish one’s bowl before midnight however, or face a year of bad luck!
JANM’s Oshogatsu Family Festival, happening on Sunday, January 4, 2015, adapts many of the customs associated with Japanese new year festivals. Featured activities include a special osechi-ryori tasting for members only, a soba noodle sampling, and a mochitsuki ceremony by Kodama Taiko that’s open to all. Bring the whole family and ring in the Year of the Sheep, JANM style!
On Sunday, January 5th, celebrate the New Year and the Year of the Horse at our Oshogatsu Family Festival from 11AM to 5PM.
Ring in the New Year with a fun-filled day of arts ‘n crafts, food, exciting cultural activities, and performances! FREE ALL DAY!
One of the traditional Japanese customs that JANM will be celebrating is mochitsuki—the pounding of mochi or rice cakes, which is essential to the “Oshogatsu” or New Year’s celebration.
Mochitsuki is an annual custom kept by many Japanese American households and communities. It is traditionally an all-day event which requires many hands, long hours, and physical labor, but is also a time of fellowship and socializing with friends and family.
Mochitsuki usually begins the day before, with the washing of the mochigome(sweet glutinous rice) and is left to soak overnight in large kettles or tubs. Early the next morning the mochigome is ready to be steamed in theseiro—wooden steaming frames. Three or four seiro are stacked one on top of the other and placed over a kettle of boiling water.
After the rice is cooked, it is dumped into the usu, or mortar, made from a wood stump, stone or concrete form. The hot cooked rice in the usu is pounded with a kine or wooden mallet. With enthusiasm and force, the mochi is pounded until the mass of rice is smooth and shiny, with no discernible individual grains of rice. An essential participant in the pounding is the person assisting who quickly darts his or her hand into the usu and turns the rice before the next rhythmic pound.
The smooth, consistent mass of mochi is turned onto a cloth or paper covered table, already spread with a thin layer of mochiko (sweet rice flour). This makes the sticky mass easier to handle. An adept person pinches off small portions of the steaming hot mochi for others, who quickly form them into flattened bun shapes with their hands. The formed mochi is then set aside to cool and is ready to eat.
Be sure to visit JANM on Sunday, January 5th 2014 to watch Kodama Taiko perform their unique Mochitsuki performance at 2:30PM or 4PM. Watch as Kodama Taiko combine the age-old tradition of pounding mochi (sweet rice) with the sounds of taiko. This energetic performance is customary during the Japanese New Year’s Oshogatsu. Then stick around to sample the delicious mochi afterwards!
VIDEO: Mochitsuki at Heart Mountain (Wyoming)
B&W home movie footage of mochitsuki taken at the Heart Mountain concentration camp in Wyoming during WWII. From the Naokichi Hashizume Collection at JANM.
Photos by Daryl Kobayashi, Richard Murakami, Russell Kitagawa, Tsuneo Takasugi, and Caronline Jung.
Celebrate the New Year and the Year of the Horse at JANM! Ring in 2014 with a FREE fun-filled day of exciting cultural performances, special foods, and fun crafts!
FREE admission all day on Sunday, January 5, 2014 from 11AM – 5PM.
Here are a few highlights to look forward to at Oshogatsu Family Festival:
From12PM – 5PM, world-renowned candy artistShan Ichiyanagi returns JANM! Watch as he makes horse & other special candy sculptures! These sculptures will be for children on, and candies will be raflled off throughout the day.
From 12PM – 2PM, learn how to make onigiri rice balls and participate in our Onigiri Design Contest, presented by Common Grains!
From1PM – 5PM be sure to try some lucky zaru soba (buckwheat noodles) with Kidding Around the Kitchen. From 1PM – 5PM you can also meet and ride some real live ponies in celebration of the Year of the Horse!
Don’t miss Kodama Taiko at 2:30PM & 4PM as they perform a demonstration of mochitsuki, a traditional rice cake pounding ceremony. Mochi samples will be passed out at the end of the performance!
For JANM members, there will be a special gourmet osechi-ryori tasting from 12PM – 1PM where members can sample traditional Japanese New Year foods, while supplies last!
The day will also include all-day activities such as a horse bounce house, a toddler room where our youngest guests can hang out, Fukubukuro (lucky bag) sale at the Museum Store, and fun horse crafts.