With 2023 being the year of Usagidoshi [rabbit] it is fun to take a look into the differences between the Chinese Zodiac and the Japanese Edo, what the year of the rabbit means in Japanese society. And how the Japanese celebrate the New Year.
The Chinese Zodiac was introduced to Japan around the third to fourth century and was mainly utilized as a method of indicating time, date, and orientation in space. It should be noted that there are pivotal contrasts between the Chinese Zodiac and the Japanese Eto [Japan’s zodiac]. The most marked difference is that the Japanese use the solar calendar [January 1] to mark the New Year while China and many of the other Asian countries use the lunar calendar, which places New Year’s in late January or early February. Equally as important, the upcoming year for the Chinese zodiac will be symbolized with uses a pig whereas the Japanese Eto uses a boar.
The year of usagi [rabbit] has its own special meaning in Japanese culture. In both China and Japan, rabbits have historically been associated with luck, as the Japanese kanji used to write the word rabbit is similar to the kanji meaning “get rid of” or “vanish.” Due to their lucky attributes, rabbits have been incredibly popular among many Japanese people, and their design has been used on countless items including but not limited to kimono, obi, tableware, and other
merchandise. Since a rabbit’s hind legs are set up in a way that only allows them to move forward, they have long been known as a symbol of advancement. Across Japanese folklore, the rabbit was promoted in many myths as an emblem of cleverness and self-devotion, comparable to the well-known fable “The Tortoise and the Hare.” In Japanese society it is believed that those born during a rabbit year are not only the most fortunate, but talented, ambitious, virtuous and reserved. They are known to have exceedingly fine taste and are regarded with admiration and trust.
Celebrating New Year’s in Japan is a festive and tradition-filled experience. Many Japanese choose to ring in the new year by participating in Hatsumode or the first shrine visit of the new year to acquire good luck/energy. Another excellent way to celebrate New Year’s the Japanese way is by listening to the Joya no kane which is the traditional bell ringing ceremony held across the country on New Year’s Eve. Signifying the passing of the old year and the beginning of a new one, temple bells are rung 108 times to signify each of the worldly desires central to Buddhism.
At Sake Social, we highly recommend drinking sake as you ring in the New Year. We suggest any of the following brews. The gold-flake Hakushika Kuromatsu Gold, the luxurious Hakutsuru Nishiki, a delicately refined sake full of lovely floral aromas. And always an expert and novice favorite: Imayo Koi.