The Japanese celebrate the New Year in a big way. Their official New Year falls on January 1, however, actually the season itself runs from the last December through January 3. The greetings card known as nengajo can be purchased from the postal service. The nengajos often have caricatures of the animals representing the coming year on them. Cards are not sent to people who have had a relative pass away during the old year. People who suffer the loss of a loved one during the year send out cards to others beforehand asking them that they not be sent nengajo. Nengajo are mailed before the year-end, although it is considered within etiquette to send these cards until January 15.
As the year’s end draws near, people begin cleaning their homes and workplaces in preparation for the New Year. This is a time of major cleaning with even the Buddha images in temples getting a dust-off. News programmes often show the cleaning of major Buddhist images, such as the Nara Daivutsu (Nara, the great Buddha) with monks climbing over it to clean them. Buckwheat noodles are eaten during the day or evening to ensure prosperity and longevity. The noodles are called toshikoshisoba and are eaten either at home or a sobaya (noodle shop). People also gather on the New Year eve to watch the Red and White Song Festival broadcast by the local television stations. The festival is known as Kohaku Utta Gassen in Japan.
As the evening goes on, some will make an early start for the local Shinto shrine to welcome the New Year. At midnight, the Buddhist temples toll out the requisite 108 peals on their bells summoning the New Year. After making their offering, they clap their hands to summon the God and then they pray. After going home, or having welcomed in the New Year at home, the tired New Year celebrant goes to sleep, hoping to dream of a hawk, Mt Fuji or an eggplant, which are considered auspicious omens. Waking up before the sunrise is also considered important, as viewing the first sunrise of the year is thought to be a good and proper start to the New Year. The Japanese people celebrate some other festivals also related to the New Year during the year. These festivals are known as Oseibo, Omikosa, Swogatshu, Hatsumoude and Otoshidama.