Life Through Seasons in Japan - Motherhood & Parenting in Japan

Hatsu Shogatsu — How Babies Celebrate the New Year in Japan

Last Updated on 2024-01-08 by Teni

Once December rolls around, it’s time time take out the hago ita! The hago ita is an ornamental decoration that is part of hatsu shogatsu — how babies celebrate the New Year in Japan.

Hatsu shougatsu (初正月 | literally, “one’s first new year”)  is the Japanese way of celebrating a baby’s first new year. As a baby grows, families continue to practice these customs yearly. 

Hago Ita and Hamaya

If a baby girl is celebrating her first ever new year, you (or the grandparents, most likely) will buy a handmade ornamental paddle called a hago ita (羽子板). It will be used to decorate the home for future New Year celebrations.

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During the Heian period (794 to 1185), it was fashionable to play a badminton-like game called hanetsuki (羽根つき) during the new year. Players use hago ita, a wooden paddle.

The action of knocking away the shuttlecock, harau (掃う), is pronounced the same way as the word used when driving away evil forces harau (祓う). As a result, it became custom to protect babies from evil spirits with a hago ita.

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Similarly, baby boys get a “demon-breaking arrow” arrow, or hamaya (破魔矢).

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I love the contrast between the bright “girly” colors and the somber “manly” colors.

READ: Hatsu Sekku: Momo no Sekku and Tango no Sekku






Another New Year’s custom is otoshidama (お年玉) money given to children in cute, small envelopes. 

“The amount of money depends on the age of the child, and the relationship between adult and child, however, 3,000-5,000 yen per envelope is common.” (Best Living Japan) For babies, 1,000-2,000 yen is the norm.





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Hatsumode is the first Shinto shrine or Buddhist temple visit of the Japanese New Year. The New Year is perhaps the most important holiday in Japan and special planning is taken when doing hatsumode. People visit shrines and temples to make wishes for the new year and to return and replace lucky charms known as omamori (お守り).

Major shrines and temples like Sensoji in Asakusa or Meiji Shrine in Harajuku can get up to 3 million visitors in the first 3 days of the year!

We spent the previous new year in Ibaraki, in the husband’s hometown. Our shrine of choice has been visited by his family for years. It’s a local shrine that had absolutely no crowds (or even people) on its grounds, even though it was January 2.

READ: Inu no Hi – A Shrine Visit for Pregnant Women

Osechi Ryori

The standard meal for the first 3 days of the new year is osechi ryori (お節料理), preserved dishes made in the final days of December. Osechi ryori is more about presentation and eating auspicious dishes so there’s usually nothing for a baby to eat, except for maybe the golden black beans. Still, it’s a chance to take wonderful photos!

READ: O-kuizome: An Elaborate Feast for Baby

Nanakusa gayu

On or around January 7, the last day of the Japanese New Year, you can make nanakusa gayu (七草粥). It’s a rice porridge using 7 different herbs. It’s not particularly tasty, but eating this porridge is believed to bring health and wellness for the rest of the year.

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Below is a list of ingredients in nanakusa gayu. Unless you live in Japan or near an Asian market, I think it will be difficult to get all the ingredients (except turnips).

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Seri/Japanese Parsley
Nazuna/Shepherd’s Purse.
Gogyou/Jersey Cudweed
Suzushiro/Japanese radish

Dates To Know

Before you ring in the New Year, you’ve go to get your home in order!

Hago ita and hamaya are put up in mid-December, on or around December 13. Why that particular day? December 13 is shogatsu goto hajime (正月事始め), the day on which New Year’s decorations like shimekazari and kadomatsu go on display.

There is no obligation to display new year’s decorations on December 13. It’s just a traditional date from the olden calendar.

However, there are two days that you should definitely avoid. They are December 29 and December 31.

An alternative reading of “29” sounds like a word for anguish. December 31 is to be equally avoided because putting up decorations at the last minute (ichiya kazari 一夜飾り) are like getting ready for a funeral — thought and care should be put in decorating the home for the new year.

Traditionally, the Japanese New Year, oshogatsu (お正月) is the first three to 15 days of the New Year). 

January 15 is ko shougatsu  (小正月), the end of the traditional New Year.

Are you ready to welcome the new year?

For more on Hina Matsuri and other Japanese celebrations, I recommend this book, Japanese Traditions: Rice Cakes, Cherry Blossoms and Matsuri: A Year of Seasonal Japanese Festivities:

Available on Amazon & Amazon Japan

Hatsu Shogatsu —How Babies Celebrate the New Year in Japan


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