Pictured above: mochitsuki or "rice pounding" at the Morikami during Oshogatsu, the annual New Year festival

by: Reiko Nishioka, Director of Education 

Ōmisoka is the last day of the year. It is a significant and also very busy day when families make final preparations for the New Year, Oshogatsu.  The preparation starts in the middle of December. Temples, shrines and many homes do a thorough house cleaning. Its purpose is to cleanse one’s mind and home of the past year’s accumulation of dust, dirt and soot. Toward the end of the year, businesses and organizations have a party called Bōnen-kai, which means a forget-the-year party. It is a year-end social gathering. Families start preparing special New Year foods and make mochi by pounding steamed rice and forming it into small cakes known as mochitsuki. (The Morikami will pound mochi at its Oshogatsu, New Year event January 9, 2011.)


Growing up in Japan, I could not wait to see the “Kōhaku Utagatsen” New Year Eve program, the most watched TV show of the year. It is a team singing contest between the most popular male and female singers each year. The program has been running for more than 50 years and has become an annual Ōmisoka event.

At the stroke of midnight, kane bells at the temples throughout the country ring 108 times. This is called joya no kane. I would stay up to watch joya no kane on TV and eat soba noodles. When we hear joya no kane, people stop their busy activities and calmly welcome the New Year.

Here’s a quiz for readers! Why do Japanese temple bells ring 108 times and why do people eat soba noodles on Ōmisoka?  The first person with the correct answer gets a pair of tickets to Oshogatsu!


4 thoughts on “Ōmisoka

  1. Buddhists believe that mankind has 108 serious sins or defilements that stop them from reaching nirvana. In Japanese culture it’s believed that ringing the bell 108 times at the end of the year is supposed to free us of those sins for the beginning of the New Year. & It is traditional to eat soba (buckwheat noodles) on New Year’s Eve since thin long noodles symbolize longevity. It is called toshikoshi soba (passing the year noodles).

  2. The bells are rung 108 times to symbolize the purification from the passions and desires that keep us in the cycle of suffering according to buddhist belief, and soba noodles are eaten to symbolize the crossing of one year to the next, and to symbolize the families fortunes will extend like the long noodles.

  3. 108つの鐘は、108の煩悩の数とも、四苦八苦(4x9+8x9=108)とも言われているそうです。年越しそばは、細くも長くの長寿を願って食べられているそうです。

  4. Pingback: Oshogatsu : nouvel an, renouvellement ? « Ta3mam – un blog mode, beauté, voyages et musique

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