What is Buddhist New Year?

oshogatsu buddhist new year in japan

Buddhist New Year is a time of reflection, renewal, and celebration. This auspicious holiday is a reminder of the impermanence of all things and an occasion to make a fresh start. It encourages us to release attachments to the past and embrace the present moment with open hearts and clear minds.

In Japan, the new year, known as Oshōgatsu, follows the Gregorian calendar and falls on January 1st. In accordance with this calendar, Buddhist temples all over the world hold ceremonies and celebrations at this time. 

Preparations for the Buddhist New Year commence with thorough cleaning, both physical and spiritual. Known as Osoji, or “great cleaning,” this tradition involves a meticulous cleansing of homes and public spaces, symbolizing the removal of impurities and negativity. Osoji may take place over several days leading up to the new year. At Zen temples, monks and volunteers take part in this practice by meticulously sweeping and scrubbing to welcome the new year with pristine surroundings.

Joya No Kane — Ringing the bells!

Joya no Kane new year celebration in japan courtesty of wikimedia commons

As the eve of the Buddhist New Year unfolds people will take part in the ritual of Joya no Kane, the ceremonial ringing of the temple bells 108 times. This ringing of the bells symbolizes the 108 worldly desires that bind humans to suffering.

Each resonant toll serves as a reminder to let go of attachments and transcend the earthly desires. Each ring invites individuals to reflect on the past year, acknowledge the challenges faced, and embrace the lessons learned. The Zen tradition places a strong emphasis on mindfulness during this ritual, encouraging participants to listen to the echoes of the bell with full awareness.

On the first day of the new year, millions of Buddhist practitioners embark on a pilgrimage to temples in a tradition known as Hatsumode. Hatsumode offers an opportunity for introspection and setting positive intentions for the coming year. 

Buddhist New Year Cuisine

osechi ryori new year buddhist cuisine in japan courtesty of wikimedia commons

Buddhist New Year is also marked by a beautiful array of delicious traditional foods served at temples and at home.
Osechi ryori, a meticulously crafted assortment of symbolic dishes, includes dishes like sweet black beans, red and white kamaboko (fish cake), and o-zōni, a traditional soup made with vegetables and rice cakes. Every element of osechi ryori carries a wish for prosperity, health, and good fortune in the coming year. Served in layered lacquer boxes called jubako, these traditional delicacies not only please the palate and the eyes.

Happy Buddhist New Year to all of you!

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