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Sakura & Ichiro

December: New Year's Cards

Hashimoto Miki

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December is a month that most people spend busily getting ready for the upcoming New Year. The very end of December, known as toshi no se in Japanese, is especially full of things to do.

First people write nengajo (New Year's cards) and put them in the mail. The cards need to be sent out early to make sure that they arrive at their destinations on New Year's Day. Some people still decorate their nengajo by hand or with a wood-block print known as a hanga, but nowadays many use computers to help them make their cards more efficiently, such as by printing out cards featuring family photographs from the year gone by. It takes a great deal of time and effort to write addresses on the cards if you have a lot of people to send them to, so printing the addresses using a PC is another popular timesaver.


Next is a thorough cleaning of the house that removes all the dirt from the outgoing year. The family comes together and cleans every inch of the house, including nooks and crannies that they wouldn't normally clean. Once the house is spick-and-span, they put up seasonal decorations around the house, including at the entrance and in a household shrine known as a kamidana. Decorations include shimekazari (straw rope) and kadomatsu (displays made from pine branches and bamboo).


Another important task is to prepare traditional New Year's cuisine known as osechi-ryori. This is made using ingredients that can last several days, so as to reduce the need for housework on New Year's Day. The tradition of osechi-ryori is also related to the concept of monoimi, which, among other things, advocates avoiding the use of fire. The food is served in a layered box that symbolizes good fortune and happiness being stacked on top of one another. Traditional osechi-ryori foods vary from region to region and family to family.

Once all these preparations are finished, people spend New Year's Eve eating toshikoshi soba, buckwheat noodles that one eats during the passing of the year.

This manga also features a kotatsu, a heated wooden table. The heater is covered with a blanket, with the tabletop placed over the blanket. The table is low to the ground, and families sit around it with the blanket covering their legs up to their waist to keep them warm. Family members enjoying conversation while sitting at a kotatsu is a very common sight in the winter.