Prints for the Japanese New Year
New Year’s holiday celebrations are the most significant of the seasonal observances in Japan. These festivities were originally associated with the agricultural calendar, the greeting of the deity for the New Year (toshigami), and wishes for health, prosperity, and happiness. Today the purification ritual that precedes the deity’s arrival is still observed in the form of a thorough housecleaning. Traditional foods are eaten, games are played, New Year’s cards are exchanged, and old rituals are repeated. Woodblock prints of the 18th and 19th centuries depict the customs, beliefs, and auspicious symbols associated with New Year’s festivities.
In modern Japan, the Gregorian calendar is used; thus, the New Year now falls on January 1. Until 1873, however, these celebrations were based on the lunar or Japanese civil calendar (according to which the incoming New Year will fall on February 3, 2011). In that calendar, each year was also identified with a zodiac animal equated with one of the twelve heavenly branches used to name the years. The year 2010 is the third in the cycle, the year of the tiger; the year 2011 is the fourth, the year of the rabbit.