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How to have a lucky (remote!) Japanese New Year

Lego torii gate and kimono-wearing minifig

Even in Japan this year, a lot of temples and shrines are closed because of the current COVID spike, and trains didn’t run all night on New Year’s Eve, so most people can’t usher in the new year with the traditional First Shrine Visit, First Fortunetelling Prediction, or even a bowl of toshikoshi soba.

But don’t despair, because this post is all about getting your lucky new year fixes safely and remotely, wherever you happen to live!

And remember — in Japan, New Year’s lasts for three days, so waiting to make the traditional observations until the 2nd or 3rd is still legit!

First, let’s eat some long noodles for long life

Everybody looks forward to chowing down on toshikoshi soba for their first meal of the new year, but if you’re not anywhere they’re dishing up big satisfying bowls of buckwheat noodles, you can easily whip up a tasty batch of them yourself.

You can use an authentic recipe for Japanese toshikoshi soba soup, or you can also capture the spirit of eating long noodles for long life with my favorite Japanese noodle dish! (If you subscribe to my Japanagram newsletter, you’ll recognize this one from the April edition’s Japanese Home Cooking feature!)

Creamy Sesame Noodles

Creamy sesame ginger noodle

Ingredients (per single serving):

3.5 oz. (100 g) dried Japanese soba (buckwheat) noodles or regular spaghetti (if you can find the whole wheat kind, it’ll more closely approximate Japanese soba)

2 T. sliced green onions

Toasted sesame seeds, for garnish

Creamy Sesame-Ginger Dressing

Cook noodles according to instructions on package. Drain and rinse (so they don’t stick together). Toss with dressing and green onions. Sprinkle sesame seeds on top and serve warm or cold.

Creamy Sesame-Ginger Dressing (makes enough for 12 servings):

1/4 c. soy sauce

1/4 c. rice vinegar

1/4 c. water

2 cloves garlic, grated

2 knobs peeled fresh ginger, grated (each the size of your thumb, or larger)

6 T. sesame tahini or Japanese sesame paste*

1 T. sugar

1/2 t. red pepper flakes

Whisk all dressing ingredients together and store in refrigerator. Will last a month in the fridge (but I guarantee it’ll be long gone before then!)

*You can buy tahini online if you can’t find it at your local supermarket, or you can substitute creamy natural peanut butter (the kind without added sugar) for a slightly different but still delicious taste.

Now let’s get your First Fortune of the New Year

Shrine maiden o-mikuji vending machine

Everyone wants to see what fate has in store for them in the new year, and buying the first o-mikuji is a popular tradition on the first shrine visit. But even if you can’t get to an o-mikuji vendor, you can get a genuine reading based on the I Ching (the same divination method sold at shrines and temples) by…downloading a FREE app to your phone!

Screen shot of Yi Jing app
This is the app I like
O-mikuji vending table at Senso-ji temple in Tokyo
Traditionally, the I Ching relies on “fate” to predict fortunes based on random throws of yarrow sticks (like this one at Senso-ji temple) or on six tosses of three coins.

The app uses the coin method. Each coin can come up two different ways (heads or tails), and each random toss of three coins results in one line of a “hexagram.” Six tosses of the coins are necessary to build up the entire fortune.

To get started, click on the question mark icon at the foot of the screen…

Screen shot of Yi Jing app

Then type in your question. The I Ching answers open-ended questions (not the kind that can be answered by “yes” or “no”) so be sure you’re asking something like, “What can I look forward to in the new year?”

The app works by physically shaking your phone six times. Each time, the coins will move and show you the result of the toss, then fill in one line in the diagram up in the right corner.

Screen shot of Yi Jing app

After six separate shakes, it will automatically deliver your prediction for the present and future (click on the tabs to read them), plus any additional information given by “changing” lines.

Screen shot of Yi Jing app

For example, my new year’s fortune for this year was 10 > 60, with changing lines at 4 and 6 (which means Hexagram 10 influenced by Hexagram 60, with clarifying “Changes” information from the fourth and sixth coin tosses). The hexagrams based on your throws will appear automatically, after you finish your six throws, but you can see a list of all 64 possible hexagrams if you click on the Book icon at the bottom of the screen.

There are a number of different translations/interpretations of the hexagrams in English, and some are easier to understand than others. You can get alternative versions by clicking on the Library icon at the bottom of the screen then clicking on “Store” in the upper left of the Library screen (the app and basic translations of the hexagrams is free, but you have to do in-app purchase if you want others). Any versions you buy will show up in your Library, and you can switch between them to compare their interpretations of your fortune.

Screen shot of Yi Jing app

Here’s an example of how different they can be for the same fortune — the one on the left is Hilary Barrett’s “I Ching: Walking Your Path” and the one on the right is Carol K. Anthony’s “A Guide to the I Ching”

And if you get a yucky one? No problem!
In Japan, you can reject any fortune you don’t like by leaving it at the shrine, so it’s only fair that the same rules apply to the app!

And finally, let’s make our First Shrine Visit

Even if you live somewhere that’s not remotely close to a Shinto shrine, you can still think about the kind of wishes you make when it’s finally your turn to step up to the offering box, toss your coins, and ring that bell.

People waiting for hatsumode first shrine visit of the new year at the Nezu Shrine in Tokyo

Before we jump into the wishing, though, let’s wait in a virtual line. Let’s stop for five minutes and think about what we want to wish for in the year to come. I don’t know about you, but the longer I wait, the more I remember to ask for stuff that would benefit other people too, not just what I’m hoping my own life will hold in the year ahead.

Fortunately, when you’re making your wishes virtually, you can make as many wishes as you like — and take as long as you like — because there’s nobody behind you in line!

Got your wishes? OK. Close your eyes, imagine yourself at your favorite shrine.

If you like (and you’re nowhere people will think you’re crazy), you can bow twice, clap your hands twice, fold them and make your wishes, then bow again.

Or you can just go for it.

Then, because no new year’s is complete without a little cup of sake…

Shrine maiden serving new year's sake at the Meiji Shrine

…feel free to take a ceremonial sip, even if it’s not dished out by a shrine maiden!

Sake cup overflowing into wooden box

Happy new year, friends far and near・° ♪・☆  
May 2021 bring you heaps of happiness and the best of luck!

And if you’re curious where I got that awesome kimono-clad minifig and the Lego torii gate, they’re part of the amazing light-up sakura tree Lego kit I just got from Buildiverse!

I hope that as we move deeper into winter, you’ve got plenty of good books and a nice cuppa to curl up with!

Jonelle Patrick writes novels set in Japan, produces the monthly newsletter Japanagram, and blogs at Only In Japan and The Tokyo Guide I Wish I’d Had

Jonelle Patrick View All

Writing mystery books set in Tokyo is mostly what I do, but I also blog about the odd stuff I see every day in Japan. I'm a graduate of Stanford University and the Sendagaya Japanese Institute in Tokyo, and a member of the International Thriller Writers, the Mystery Writers of America, and Sisters In Crime. When I'm not in Tokyo, I live in San Francisco. I also host a travel site called The Tokyo Guide I Wish I'd Had, so if you're headed to Japan and want to check out the places I take my friends when they're in town, take a look!

7 thoughts on “How to have a lucky (remote!) Japanese New Year Leave a comment

    • Ha, they call it “nerigoma” but it’s essentially the same thing, at 4X the price! I was kind of thrilled to discover that it could be had for so much less (and in larger quantities) under another name, since I use it a lot in salad dressings and such! (If you have any interest, I’ve been publishing those recipes in my Japanagram newsletter, and have been posting the features from the previous month as soon as a new one comes out, so a lot of them are here:

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