Manga Monday

Manga Monday #25: Komi-san’s Japanese New Year

HAPPY NEW YEAR!  How did you spend your New Year’s Eve?  For me, that was fireworks, a warm dinner, puzzles, games, and a toast at midnight.  (Oh, and watching BTS on Dick Clark’s New Years Rockin’ Eve.  SO EPIC.)  I feel like things like this–toasts and watching the ball drop–are fairly typical in America, although I don’t think there’s much of a widespread “must have” tradition to hit.

Since Manga Monday has so beautifully fallen on New Year’s Day, I wanted to utilize one of my new favorite mangas in order to show some things that make a Japanese New Year different than the one you may have experienced this year!

Komi-san’s Japanese New Year

Miss Komi is Bad at Communication
Komi-san wa Komyusho desu
ODA Tomohito
7 volumes (ongoing)

Komi-san, at first, seemed to me to be a very typical shounen romance manga.  I fully expected it to be a lot of fan service and using Komi-san’s character to make some doofus  and all-around unlikable lead character magically have a hot chick under his wing.  Let me tell you, Komi-san wa Komyusho desu is not the trope-filled heap I was expecting it to be.  Quite the contrary, it’s so freaking good.

The story follows high schooler Tadano Hitohito who, to his surprise, discovers that the cold class beauty, Komi-san, is actually just a terrified girl with a horrible communication disorder.  Komi-san finds it difficult to talk, well, ever, to anyone.  When Tadano realizes this, he confronts Komi about it.  She details her lackluster school life thus far thanks to her disorder–always eating alone, people too afraid to talk to her, forever wishing for a friend.  Tadano successfully opens up a friendship by inviting her to her first-ever friendly discussion via the classroom blackboard.

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SO FREAKING CUTE.

Thus, he and Komi set off to fulfill her dream of having 100 friends.  With Tadano as her very first friend, there’s 99 more to go.  This manga is insanely well-done, full of gut-busting humor as well as some very heartwarming and well-paced plot and character developments.  I love Komi-san.  It’s one that, once you hit chapter four, you’ll be going full throttle binge reading, trust me.

Today I’m going to use the New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day arcs in Komi-san to introduce you guys to some very cool cultural differences between our version of ringing in the New Year and the Japanese version.

Omisoka (大晦日) — New Year’s Eve

For the non-Japanese, you may be surprised to hear that the New Year or Oshogatsu is considered to be the most important holiday of the year in Japan.  It is a holiday period (lasting from January 1 to January 4) rich in tradition and family, the first beginning on New Year’s Eve as families return to their hometowns to visit with family, including grandparents, aunts, uncles, and the like.

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Komi and her family return to her mother’s hometown for omisoka.

Hanafuda (花札) — Japanese Card Games

There are two sets of cards that are popular for playing games for the New Year:  Karuta and Hanafuda.  In the case of Komi-san, she’s invited to play Hanafuda, so we’re going to focus on those.  Hanafuda, rather than being a specific game, is basic another standard deck of cards in which a variety of card games can be played.  There are twelve suits, each suit representing a month of the year.  There are twelve known game variants that can be played with Hanafuda cards.

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Komi plays the variant known as Koi-Koi with her grandmother and cousin.

Toshikoshi-soba (年越し蕎麦) — New Year Soba

The tradition of eating soba (Japanese noodles) on New Year’s Eve is often attributed to the Edo period, and it stands strong today.  Soba is made by stretching the dough and then cutting it into long and thin noodles, meant to represent a long, healthy life.  The cutting of the noodles also represents cutting away any bad luck of the previous year in preparation for new one.

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Mochi (餅) — Japanese Rice Cake

Eaten for New Year’s since the Heian Period, mochi is pounded sweet rice.  The Japanese word for “to hold” or “to have” is quite similar to mochi, so mochi is eaten in hopes of gaining good fortune in the coming year.  Mochi is a big part of Japanese culture in the first place, but consumption goes way up during the New Year.  It’s super sticky and quite dense, to the point that each year the Japanese police issues warnings to take care when eating it, especially the elderly, but apparently each year people die while eating it, no matter the warnings!

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Agari eating mochi.

Hatsumode (初詣で) — First Shrine Visit

Possibly the most popular New Year’s tradition is hatsumode, the first visit to a shrine in the new year.  Some head out on New Year’s Eve to visit right at midnight on the new year, while others make their visit sometime between January 1 and January 3, as most people have work off these days (which is way better than the one day we get in the U.S.).  The shrine visit involves lining up to offer prayers of thanks for the previous year and wishes for the new one.  Praying at the shrine includes tossing a coin into the offering box, bowing twice, clapping your hands twice, then ringing the bell before placing your hands together and praying.  When finished, you step back and bow once more before leaving.

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Komi and her cousin offering their prayers at hatsumode.

Omamori (御守) — Japanese amulets

Another common practice during your New Year hatsumode is to return your omamori from the previous year to be burned and to purchase amulets to bring luck in the new year.  Some offer more general blessings or protection, while others can be more specific, like “road safety” or “avoidance of evil”.  Shrine omamori are encased in silk and, once purchased, are not opened in order to keep their protective benefits.

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Komi is asked to be a shrine maiden and panics when her first customer orders.

Omikuji (おみくじ) — Fortune

Received by making a small offering and randomly choosing a piece of paper from a box, these fortunes varying all the way from the best luck, “Great luck,” to the worst luck, “Great curse”.  Attached to the predicted fortune are a varying amount attributes, concerning things such as an impending marriage proposal or your studies.  If you get a poor fortune, it is customary to tie it up with the other bad fortunes so it stays there rather than following you home.

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Tadano wishing for, “Great luck,” but receive rather less than that.

There’s a lot more going on with the Japanese New Year, especially considering it’s such an important holiday there, but here are just a few that you can see when you read Komi-san!

Check it out for free on Bato.to, because holy crap it’s adorable.

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