Mochi isn't the only traditional dish made to celebrate the Japan New year. Toshikoshi-soba is a bowl of steaming brown noodles and broth. The name "Toshikoshi " roughly translates to "being close", so eating this dish is meant to bring people together in the New Year.
Kagami- mochi is the traditional rice cake eaten during the celebration of the Japan new year. This traditional meal consists of two, round mochi placed one on top of the other. The Japanese take the Kagami mochi and display it in the main room of their house.
The Japanese say that it's important to make enough food leading up to New Years Day so that that they don't have to cook when the day arrives. Since Japanese eat mochi quite regularly during this time, the Japan new year celebration focuses on mochitsuki or the traditional pounding of mochi into rice cakes and other types of mochi pastry. Rice pounding takes place in honored locals such as shrines, and other public places. The Japanese use a wooden mallet to pound the steamed mochi rice. After the pounded mochi rice is flattened, it is cut into small pieces or shaped into round pastry.
For those Japanese not caught up in the old ways, Pre-packed mochi is easily purchased in supermarkets. In fact, automatic mochi-pounding machines are quite popular and are found in many Japanese stores.
During the Japan New Year the Japanese tend to give many gifts. Oseibo tends to be the most common New years gift. The Japanese give it to their bosses, clients and even teachers to express their appreciation.
Meanwhile, the celebration of the New Year is called "Shogatsu" and is probably the most important holiday recognized by the Japanese. The Japanese decorate the entrances to their homes with a "Shimekezari". The Shimekazari is a piece of straw rope that is made of twisted fern leaves and an orange, in addition to other plants that represent good luck. Typically, the Japanese spend time together and usually in their hometowns with family and extended family. The Japanese celebrate the Japan New Year with sweet but potent sake called Toso.
Otoshidama is a type of allowance that the Japanese give to their children, cousins, nieces and nephews. And like most children, Japanese youth turn right around and spend their Otoshidama at a toy or candy store!
In addition to preparing mochi and visiting with friends and family, the Japanese are enamored with greeting cards and send many to their relatives and friends. However, the Japanese post office holds on to all the cards and then delivers them all ay once on New Years Day. A great gesture for the townspeople but probably a pain in the butt for Japanese postmen!
As religion is quite revered in Japan, religious shrines do big business during the Japan New Year. It is normal to find shrines packed with visitors all over Japan for the time lasting from New Years Day until the 3rd of January. The Japanese visit the shrines to pray for their family's prosperity, safety, happiness and a long life. Quite a few Japanese dress up in their traditional Kimono when visiting a shrine.