Happy Lunar New Year, Year of the Usagi
The above is part of a 3-panel woodblock work by Utagawa Kunisada c. 1850, called "Actors as Lion Dancers".
With the Lunar New Year just behind us, we continue to wish you much abundance and joy in 2023, the Year of the Rabbit, or Usagi in Japanese. According to Chinese tradition, the rabbit is said to symbolize peace, balance, and calm – something we can all look forward to this year.
Lunar New Year in Japan | 日本の旧正月
The lunisolar calendar was introduced to Japan from China in the 6th century, along with the Lunar New Year celebration.
Lunar New Year was a national holiday in Japan until 1873, when the Gregorian (365-day) calendar was adopted. This was during the Meiji Restoration, when Westernizing was equated to "modernization" and many new Western traditions were adopted. This included the shift to Gregorian New Year's on January 1st.
Though no longer a national holiday, Lunar New Year is still celebrated in parts of Japan, especially in rural areas and in communities with those Chinese heritage. Many port cities with larger immigrant populations such as Yokohama and Nagasaki continue to hold large festivals.
In Yokohama, for example, the Chinese Spring Festival is held to celebrate with decorations, parades and traditional "Lion Dances", or Shishimai in Japanese.
Shishimai | 獅子舞
"Shishimai" is the name of the festive dance performed in Shishi costumes at celebrations and festivals during the New Year. The performing lion “bites” children to ward off bad luck, improve academics, and bring good health.
This is a classic tradition of the Lunar New Year, also brought from China.
Shishimai also happens to be the inspiration for our Shishito pepper. The bottom of Shishito peppers is said to resemble the mouth of the Shishi, or lion (of legend).
Kusamochi | 草餅
Another Lunar New Year celebration that is still common is the making of 草餅・Kusa Mochi (herb/greens mochi), which are green mochi made using local greens. The leafy greens that are used for this vary by region.
Do you have other Lunar New Year traditions, or hopes for the Year of the Rabbit? Leave a comment and let us know!