top of page

So busy! What Do Japanese People Do at the Year-End?

Events to welcome the New Year and their origins

December, the last month of the year, is also called “Shiwasu(師走、師=Master, 走=Run)” in Japanese. It has the meaning of "even the usually calm Shi (Master) is so busy that he starts running at the end of the year." For Japanese people, the New Year is the most important event of the year, and there are many routines to be done at the yearend, but there are also many events to pray for a healthy New Year and be thankful for a successful year.

(Photo:Mochi-tsuki, rice cake pounding)

In this article, we would like to introduce some of the traditional year-end events of the Japanese people and some of the trends related to year-end events in recent years. The last day of the year, “Omisoka” in Japanese, will be covered in detail in a separate article.

Table of Contents

1. So Busy! Recent Trends in Year-End Events in Japan

2. Preparation for Year-End Gifts and New Year's Cards

3. End of Work Day and Year-End Party

4. Cleaning and Kamado Deity (Fire God)

5. Decorating for the New Year

6. Summary

1. So Busy! Recent Trends in Year-End Events in Japan

The Japanese greeting on New Year's Day is "Akemashite Omedeto- gozaimasu" (Happy New Year), a word of thanks to" Toshi-gami,” the deity of harvests, for bringing good fortune to home. In December, Japanese people become very busy preparing to welcome the New Year God on New Year's Day.

Amid all this busyness, many people in Japan today celebrate Christmas as a joyous event, although it is less religious and more influenced by commercial purposes. People decorate Christmas trees at home, buy so-called Christmas cakes, and have parties with friends and family.

In addition, one of the most popular year-end scenes that have taken root in recent years is the gorgeous illuminations around extensive commercial facilities and major train stations. Even after Christmas, the lights remain on until the end of the year, attracting many people.

2. Preparation for Year-End Gifts and New Year's Cards

Some of you may know that Japan has a meticulous "gift-giving culture." At the end of the year, there is a custom of giving gifts called “Oseibo” to each other. Although it depends on the region and the relationship with the recipient, it is recommended that the gifts reach the recipient from the early part of December to the 20th if possible, or by the 31st at the latest.

Nowadays, more and more people start preparing their year-end gifts in November and send them out at the end of the month, avoiding the busy month of December. Every year, department stores introduce elaborate gift packages and prepare gift books for year-end gifts to liven up the year-end shopping season.

The average budget for a year-end gift is between 3,000 yen and 5,000 yen, but it is crucial to check the recipient's tastes, hobbies, and family structure before choosing a gift that will please them. We can say that Japanese gift-giving culture shows how much thought you put into the recipient. However, more and more companies have started to avoid such a fussy custom in recent years, and fewer people are sending year-end gifts than before.

It is also customary in Japan to send New Year's cards(Nenga-Jo) to express gratitude. In addition to words of congratulations for the new year, the zodiac sign of the year, and motifs that bring good luck, some peop