Prints for the Japanese New Year
The New Year holiday celebrations are the most significant of the seasonal observances in Japan. These festivities were originally associated with the agricultural calendar, with rebirth and renewal and the greeting of the deity for the new year (toshigami), and with wishes for health, prosperity, and happiness in the coming year. Even today the purification ritual that preceded the deity's arrival is still observed in the form of a thorough housecleaning, and traditional foods are eaten, games are played, New Year's cards are exchanged, and old rituals are repeated. The prints in this exhibition illustrate some of these customs and beliefs and depict a few of the auspicious symbols associated with the festival.
In modern Japan, the Gregorian calendar is used; thus the new year now falls on January 1st. Until 1873, however, these celebrations were based on the lunar or Japanese civil calendar (according to which the New Year will fall on February 19th in the year 1996). In that calendar, each year was also identified with a zodiac animal equated with one of the twelve branches used to name the years; this new year is the first of the cycle, the year of the rat (ne).