New Year’s

A delicious way to celebrate the Year of the Sheep — cute sheep bread!

As we follow the Chinese zodiac here in Japan, we too are celebrating the Year of the Sheep this year. Not surprisingly, that means we’ve seen an abundance of sheep-themed products for the New Year, including some in edible form. Famous bakery chain DONQ is just one of the many companies that offered such sheep-related food items, and their selection of sheep breads was so cute, we simply had to share them with you. Just take a look at the pictures, and we think they’ll get you in the mood to start off the Year of the Sheep in good cheer!

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Lucky Bag Roundup: Our reporters choose the best fukubukuro of 2015

Japan has many wonderful New Year’s traditions, including visiting the local shrine, eating auspicious food, and sending postcards to all your friends. But one of the most exciting and potentially disappointing activities that occur on the first day of January is the purchasing of fukubukuro. Commonly referred to as “Lucky Bags” in English, fukubukoro are specially priced parcels of surplus items from popular stores across Japan that are usually valued well over the purchase price.

This year, we sent 10 of our Japanese reporters out on the streets early New Year’s morning to gather up the best Lucky Bags they could find. Some came back with somewhat useless products even Mr. Sato wouldn’t want. Other’s were pleasantly surprised to find rare and valuable items nestled in their bags. But despite deep discounts, Lucky Bags aren’t always worth the wait and price, so in order to save you time on next year’s Japanese New Year’s shopping adventures, each of our writers has chosen the best Lucky Bags this side of the Pacific.

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The pets of Japan wish you a happy new year (some are happier about it than others)【Photos】

Just like how families in the west put lights on their homes and ornaments on trees for Christmas, Japan has its own traditional decorations for New Year’s. One of the most common is kagami mochi, a stack of two or three rice cakes topped with a mikan or daidai, both orange-like citrus fruits.

No one’s exactly sure why it’s called kagami mochi though, since even though the name literally means “mirror rice cake,” there’s no mirror included in the display. As a matter of fact, in the minds of some animal lovers in Japan, the design options for kagami mochi are wide open, as shown by this collection of photos where adorable pets take the place of the rice cakes.

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What wonders do a Super Potato Lucky Bag hold? Grab your retro gaming hat and let’s find out!

When you buy a fukubukuro (lucky bag) from a store in Japan, you can usually be sure that the value of their contents will surpass the amount you paid for the bag; it’s a guarantee, or else no one would ever buy them! But when you decide to buy a fukubukuro from a secondhand store, you certainly can’t feel 100% sure that you will get your money’s worth.

Are your secondhand items going to be in good condition? Are you going to be getting some good value? Or are you getting the games that even the secondhand store just wants to get rid of? Let Tokyo’s most famous used video game store Super Potato help you decide after the break.

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Contents of Starbucks Coffee’s 2015 lucky bag REVEALED!

Happy New Year! At the start of the new year in Japan many stores release fukubukuro, or lucky bags, where you can get a selection of goodies for less than they usually retail for, as well as limited edition items. People rush around the stores picking up fukubukuro from all their favourite brands, but often the items inside are a secret. We’re here to reveal some of them so you can make an informed decision on which to go for.

Here we have Starbucks Coffee’s offering, which sells for 3,500 yen (US$29). Read on to find out what’s inside!

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Pet owner celebrates the Year of the Sheep by inserting their cat into ridiculous costume

2015 is the Year of the Sheep! If you live in Japan or in the vicinity, that means your life is going to get flooded with sheep-themed merchandise for the next 12 months. We’ve already gotten Disney sheep stuffed animals, sheep ice cream, sheep stamps, and there’s plenty more to come.

But there’s one item that rarely gets the Chinese zodiac-themed touch each year: cat costumes. Thankfully Japanese Twitter user @hizashi414 put an end to that by creating a sheep outfit for their cat and taking plenty of pictures to prove it.

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Six non-traditional osechi New Year’s meals in Japan

New Year’s in Japan is usually celebrated with family huddled under the kotatsu while munching on mikans, and sharing a dinner of traditional food, called osechi. Each component of the meal retains an auspicious meaning, granting the eater with good fortune, health, or fertility, among other things, during the coming year.

However, in recent years, an increasingly large population of Japan’s youth have chosen to forgo eating osechi. There are many reasons osechi has been disappearing from Japanese homes during New Year’s, but these changing tastes have given rise to a smorgasbord of strange, unique, and, frankly, comparatively tastier pre-made osechi meals. From cooked isopods to a box full of meat, let’s take a closer look at six modern day osechi.

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Special 2015 New Year’s stamp shows adorable sheep completing a 12-year project

With November half over, it’s time to start worrying about the big holiday this season: New Year’s! While Christmas might be the big winter holiday in many countries, for those in Japan, the changing of the calendar is a far bigger event and everyone from school kids overworked salarymen gets a row of days off.

In addition to lazing about and eating way too much food, January first also means nearly mandatory New Year’s postcards in Japan. Next year is the year of the sheep (or goat, depending on who you ask), and the Japanese postal service has revealed their special postcard stamps featuring an adorable four-legged wool giver just for the occasion. However, eagle-eyed patrons with a good memory have noticed something special about the stamps…

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Celebrate New Years in Pokémon style — with a monster ball filled with traditional osechi food!

In Japan, when you start hearing about Christmas cake promotions, it also means you have to start thinking about New Year’s osechi food as well. Osechi consists of different traditional foods typically prepared for New Year’s to wish for luck in the coming year and are usually items that keep well so that you can have the pre-cooked foods throughout the New Year’s holidays without having to do much cooking during that time. You can, of course, choose to keep it simple and simply buy just a few of the key items like datemaki (sweet rolled omelette) and kuromame (black soy beans) at the supermarket, or go all out on a luxury osechi set from a famous restaurant or department store. Well, this year, it looks like a Pokémon osechi set is also an option, and it even comes in a unique container in a shape that fans will find quite familiar — a Poké Ball!

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Absolutely wow: Dawn of the new year seen from 30 km up【video】

The new year has arrived and it feels like we’ve already fallen into the same old routine. A well-known and comfortable routine, so we’re not complaining! But it is a bit sad to let the wintry festivities go.

Fortunately, there’s still a bit of fun to be had leftover from New Year’s Day: One enterprising Hokkaido resident took it upon himself to film the dawn of the new year–from the freaking stratosphere! He posted the video on YouTube and it is absolutely beautiful.

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Too lazy to think up excuses for not getting anything done? This calendar has them for you!

I recently took a few days off to visit my hometown in California. In keeping with Japanese norms, I spent most of my time there eating and loafing around my parents’ house (in my defense they have a really nice couch, and the soba noodles my wife makes at New Year’s are amazing).

Reenergized from a week of rest and relaxation, I arrived back in Japan and went to sleep, fully intending to jump out of bed at the crack of dawn and get right to work. But when I woke up around 5:30 a.m., I stopped to reconsider my plan. Given the near-freezing temperature, was crawling out from under my warm blankets really the best choice, health-wise? Shouldn’t I take it easy for a day and make sure I was over my jet-lag? I could always get serious about work the next day, right?

It turns out that not only is New Year’s procrastination common, there’s even a calendar for it, with solid excuses for nothing doing anything printed right there on it.

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North Koreans reportedly forced to memorize Kim Jong-un’s entire 26-minute New Year speech

All around the world, people celebrate New Year’s Day in different ways, most with a sense of optimism that a new year means a new chance at achieving their dreams. However, in North Korea it’s a time of enormous anxiety for the people. Reports out of China claim that North Korea’s New Year is rung in with a speech by Kim Jong-un, and by his order everyone in the country must commit the entire speech to memory.

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New Year’s greetings from 39 Japanese illustrators!

The New Year’s break has sadly ended for most people in Japan by now, but the traditional season itself doesn’t fade away as soon. After receiving nengajo (New Year’s postcards) from clients and vendors, many office workers’ first task when they get back to work after the holiday is to contact the senders to thank them for their kind greetings.

We’ve already seen the best civilian nengajo efforts of 2013, but here are some of the coolest New Year’s greetings from Japan’s most talented manga artists and illustrators!

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Japan’s coolest New Year 2014 greeting cards

New Year in Japan means food, visiting temples, food, getting money, food, and, of course, New Years postcards. Like the many people all over the world, Japanese folks make a habit of sending cards to nearly everyone they know to mark the start of another year. The average card often features a family photo or some traditional illustration connected to the new year.

That’s the average card–some people, though, take the opportunity to send cards with a bit more pizzazz using everything from illustrations of Attack on Titan characters to an actual pack of Pokémon cards. Check out some of the best nengajo (Japanese New Years cards) we’ve found below!

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How much should we give in a New Year’s otoshidama without looking like a jerk?

A lot of Japanese people complain about the tipping culture in the US and Canada. Although parting with more money than necessary is a big part of the complaint, a lot of people in Japan dislike the mental anguish of figuring out how much is appropriate.

However, the New Year’s traditional cash presents of otoshidama, while great for kids, are just as riddled with anxiety for adults. Rather than the ambiguous sentimental value of presents, an envelope filled with cash is instantly quantifiable and wide open to judgment.

To avoid looking like a cheapskate or breaking your own bank account, our reporter surveyed those around her to figure out what the going rates for otoshidama are these days.

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Happy New Year from the RocketNews24 Team!

As 2013 comes to a close, all of us at RocketNews24 have been taking time to reflect on the past 12 months. We’ve gone through a lot of changes as a site and staff and we’re all so grateful for our steadily growing readership. Most of all, we’re proud to have brought you an entire year’s worth of funny, interesting, and at times downright crazy news from Japan and Asia. Looking back, 2013 was our biggest year yet and we hope for your continued support of our small site of translator/writers who just can’t get enough of Japan.

Wishing you all a wonderful 2014 and thanks for being the best bunch of readers our humble site could ever hope for! Here’s to a wonderful new year filled with even more dancing Tokyo granniesotter handshakes, and Mr. Sato adventures…and of course a bit of Japanese language and culture sprinkled in for good measure!

Love always and forever,

The RocketNews24 Team

Image: 58 Pic

How most Japanese people spend their New Year’s: eating nonstop at home 【Poll】

How will you be spending New Year’s Eve this year? Celebrating with family or friends? Watching a countdown on TV? Sleeping, oblivious to the world and perfectly happy about it? Here’s what Japanese respondents on one online poll said they’re be doing when the ball drops, the clock strikes twelve, and the temple bells are rung 108 times.

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【Thursday Throwback】7 reasons New Year’s is the best time to experience Japan

Christmas is less than a week away and I’m sure many of you in the Americas and Europe are looking forward to a (hopefully) relaxing day spent with family, good food and, of course, presents.

Here in Japan, Christmas seems to be getting bigger and bigger every year, but the flavor of the holiday is probably much different than it is abroad. For example, Christmas was originally popularized here as a holiday for couples to have a special night out in the city: have dinner at a fancy restaurant, exchange gifts and then spend the night together ‘celebrating’ at a hotel.

While still viewed as a ‘lover’s holiday’, Christmas has since spread to the household, with many families feasting on the now-traditional Japanese Christmas foods of cake and—thanks to an incredibly successful marketing campaign by KFC—fried chicken.

But for most Japanese families, the real holiday spirit is felt during the time around New Years. In fact, New Years is probably to Japan what Christmas is to the US and other Western countries.

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Cha-Ching! Kids in Japan Receive Up to $1,500 During New Year’s

Happy New Year!  Here’s a fist full of cash!

In Japan, there are many interesting New Year’s traditions. Aside from watching TV all night, risking your life eating mochi, and indulging in a ton of specially prepared food, those lucky enough to be young receive money.

Otoshidama, roughly translated as “New Year’s gift,” is the act of giving children small, decorated envelopes filled with money during New Year’s. Parents, relatives, and close friends usually give Otoshidama to children in elementary school to high school.

After collecting envelopes full of money from their closest adult relatives and friends, these kids make out like bandits. But just how much are these kids hauling in? The Benesse Corporation conducted a survey of elementary school children to find out.

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【Japanese Culture】The Meaning Behind Osechi Ryori: Traditional New Year’s Food in Japan

Much like Christmas in many western countries, New Year’s is a time for family in Japan.  No ball drops and champagne popping over here, just time spent with family huddled under the kotatsu, eating mikan and watching New Year’s specials on TV.  There are many New Year’s traditions in Japan, but the most delicious tradition is the eating of osechi ryori, special food eaten to give thanks and wish for happiness and prosperity in the new year.

Osechi ryori is characterized by an array of colorful dishes packed together in special boxes called jubako, which are eaten communally on New Year’s Day. Since New Year’s is a time for rest in Japan (according to tradition, nothing should be cooked on New Year’s Day), preparation of osechi ryori is typically finished before New Year’s Eve.  Many of the dishes are either dried or contain a lot of sugar or vinegar to preserve the food and enough is made to last a few days.

Osechi ryori is arguably the most important meal of the year, each dish serving as a symbol or wish for the coming year. The food is even eaten in a special way by using chopsticks that are rounded on both ends; one side for humans to use, one side for the gods.  Let’s take a look at the meanings behind some of the traditional osechi ryori foods.

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