Japanese Winter Vacation, Institute for Education on Japan | Earlham College
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Japanese Winter Vacation

By Yuri Watanabe

The Japanese winter vacation, busy and happy with all the family together, may be called the New Year’s vacation, as to the American is the Christmas vacation. Primary and high schools are closed from December twenty-fifty until January tenth and colleges from December twentieth until January tenth or fifteenth.

Though I had imagined the scene of home in this season, very different from school and also from other vacations, when I went back home from Tokyo, I used to be surprised at the busy and lively scene: everyone hurrying to finish up things by the end of the old year, and preparing for the new year.

Yuri French _small

We try to make an end of everything and never to leave any work left undone for the new year. So sometimes the entrance to the house is crowded with bill collectors bringing the bills for the whole past year, half a year, or the month, because we do not want to leave bills unpaid for the new year. Besides the shopping for the New Year’s holidays, we buy certain things for the whole coming year, which make us even busier. In the yard we see various kinds of people, some drawing a cart full of radishes and potatoes into the pickle room, some going out with stained faces which tell us that they have carried charcoal and wood to the wood house, and we see some jolly fellows rolling rice bags into the rice store, while in the garden the sound of scissors pruning the trees is incessantly heard.

Within the house some are cleaning the places which they do not clean every day, and some busily carrying the big and small rice cakes from the kitchen to every room for a part of the New Year’s decorations. Mother, besides her work for the decoration of parlors, is busy giving orders. Such a bustling time! It is an interesting contrast to find a teacher of flower arrangement sitting in a room, putting slowly and carefully pine or plum blossoms in vases for the New Year’s Day. On the night of the thirty-first, every room is cleaned again to meet the New Year without any dust of the old year, because we have the superstition that all the plan of the year is based upon New Year’s Day and that for the whole year we shall repeat the same kind of things which we do or have done on that day. Meanwhile, the witches are singing at the entrance that all the misfortune of the family in the past year may be exorcised and that great happiness may come to the family. Then, for the last thing, purifying the house with some gestures, they go away.

Now New Year’s Day has come! It is surprising that we feel the busy and bustling days are far behind, not yesterday, or the same week. Every place is quiet and peaceful, and even the day is brighter. The very plum blossoms in the garden seem to be made happy by the nightingales perched on their branches singing for the happy New Year, and the pines and bamboos in front of the gate show their happy wishes for us with their green leaves swayed by the breeze. All the decorations without and within the house improve with the day. In the house we hear the cheerful greetings and see the bowings everywhere. Everybody, dressed in a new dress, is very generous in giving smiles and greetings; everybody looks at things on the bright side and tries to say or do things of good omen. Even the babies seem not to cry unreasonably.

After the formal family breakfast of the day the younger brothers and sisters go to their schools for the New Year’s ceremony. Representatives of the family go round to every house in our street and to every house of acquaintance in the town for the New Year’s callings. So, we see many people in formal attire, go to and fro in the street where the flags of the Sun flutter overhead in the breeze, reflecting the rays of the morning light and wishing the peace and happiness for the nation and the world.

Before New Year’s Day we children are not busy, though we feel the bustling season, but from this day many entertainments are given to us. Almost all our time is occupied in having good times in New Year’s parties with the family and friends, in which we always play the poetry cards, the noble game, made from the old famous hundred poems, and sometimes the game of making the extemporaneous poems. Little children are busy, too, in playing their New Year’s games, such as bean bags, bouncing balls, the battle door and shuttle cock.

We spend the first seven days in doing different things planned for each day, according to the old custom of the family, then come back to our usual routine. After we have celebrated New Year enough and rested sufficiently, we begin our school work with the new spirit full of hope for the coming year.

Yuri Watanabe
Earlhamite: January 18, 1913

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