First Court Rituals

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Collection of First Court Rituals of the New Year

***** Location: Japan
***** Season: New Year
***** Category: Observances


Welcome to the Imperial Household Agency Homepage

This homepage presents an introduction to the official duties and various public activities of Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress, and other members of the Imperial Family, carried out both at the Imperial Palace and outside, the latter including their official visits within Japan and their fostering of friendly relations with foreign countries.

We hope that this homepage will provide a useful reference for a large number of people who may wish to deepen their knowledge about the activities and traditions of the Imperial Family.

Kunaichoo 宮内庁ホームページ 


Chooga 朝賀 First Morning Audience
..... choohai 朝拝
..... haiga 拝賀
..... sanga 参賀
..... 新年祝賀の儀

Their Majesties' New Year Reception

At the Imperial Palace each year on 1 January, Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress receive New Year greetings from His Imperial Highness the Crown Prince and the rest of the Imperial Family; the Speaker and Vice-Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President and Vice-President of the House of Councillors; Diet members; the Prime Minister; Ministers of State; the Chief Justice and Justices of the Supreme Court; other government officials with Imperial attestation (Ninshokan); Administrative Vice-Ministers of Ministries and Agencies and other leading figures of legislative, executive and judicial organs; prefectural governors and chairpersons of prefectural assemblies; and heads of diplomatic missions to Japan and their spouses. This ceremony is considered a state event.

People's Visit to the Palace for the New Year Greeting
新年一般参賀 shinnen ippan sanga

At the Imperial Palace each year on 2 January, Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress receive New Year Greetings from the people.
Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress appear with the rest of the Imperial Family on the Imperial Palace veranda several times. On this occasion, His Majesty the Emperor addresses the people. The people enter from the main gate of the Palace and offer their good wishes in the East Plaza of the Imperial Palace.

Visits by the general public to offer congratulations in the New Year Celebration at the Imperial Palace began on 1 January 1948.
At the time, the celebration lasted from noon until 4:00 p.m. Visitors entered from the Main Gate and left from the Sakashita-mon Gate after signing the visitors' books installed near the iron bridge inside the Main Gate. Although none of the members of the Imperial Family appeared before the visitors, Emperor Showa did observe the scene of the visits from the roof of the Imperial Household Agency building.

On 1 January 1951, Emperor Showa and Empress Kojun appeared before visitors for the first time, on the balcony above the central entrance to the Imperial Household Agency. From 1953, the day of the greeting was moved to 2 January due to event schedule.

Later, these visits by the general public were temporarily suspended due to construction of the Imperial Palace. Since 1969, this ceremony has been held at the present Imperial Palace.


mizu no tomi ema sagete yuku chooga kana



Ganjitsu no Sechi-E 元日節会
Audience and Reception of Politicians

Introduced after the Meiji Reformation. The Emperor meets with the politicians for a first audience and exchanges a glass of ricewine.

Hare no Gozen 晴の御膳 Official Lunch Reception
Hare no Omono 晴御膳 はれのおもの
..... Gozen no gi 御膳の儀
In the Phoenix Hall of the Imperial Palace. Now it can be held on any of the first three days of the new year.

The menu was composed first in the Heian period and is still served today.

vinegar, ricewine, salt and soy sauce, the four condiments

dumplings, konton こんとん 昆飩 餛飩
round dumplings with minced meat and vegetables, served with broth

noodles, sakubei さくべい 索餅
The oldest form of the noodles, sakubei, produced by adding rice powder to flour, was introduced from China in the eighth century.

"scorpion snack", katsuko かつこ 餲餬, □餬
Snacks kneaded with wheat flower, in the shape of a scorpion (蝎 すくもむし sukumomushi).

dumplings with cinnamon, keishin けいしん 桂心
Wheat and medical cinnamon where kneaded into a form of a three-cornered priest hat.

..... Four types of snacks from ancient China:

round dumplings, tsuishi ついし 餓子
made from flower, then fried.

"navel cakes" tensei てんせい 黏臍
dumplings with a shape of the human navel. Made from flower, then fried.

crackers, hitsura ひつら,ひちら 饆饠
Made from rice flower. Round and flat types of bisquits.

dumplings, danki だんき 団喜, kankidan 歓喜団
Made from wheat flower. Today they are still used as offerings in Buddhist rituals.

The above types of snacks were also introduced from China in the Heian period. There are eight famous snack from China (hasshuu no karagashi 八種の唐菓子, 八種唐菓子). This custom of serving them shows the strong influence of the Chinese culture on the aristocracy during the Heian period.
They are mostly made of rice or wheat flower, kneaded into auspicious shapes, filled with minced meat or vegetables and fried for consumption. They were also called "fruit" kudamono 果物.
KU meand KI, tree, "ki no mono" like nuts. These snacks were made from the fruits of trees also.
Another old meaning of KUDAMONO is "fish snacks to be eaten with ricewine".

Snack from the Heian Period




Hagatame, O-Hagatame (teeth strenghtening)
tooth hardening, teeth hardening
hagatame 歯固 歯がため はがため

rice cakes for strengthening the teeth
..... hagatame no mochi 歯固の餅 はがためのもち
Diamond Petal Rice Cakes
..... hishi hanabira mochi, 菱葩餅 ひしはなびらもち


In no Hairai 院の拝礼 First Audience for High Officials
First of January. This ceremony started during the Heian period. It was held in the park of the Imperial Palace. Now this audience is held more in private, while the official New Year Reception is held for officials (see above).

人だかり 院の拝礼 目指しけり 
hito dagari In no Hairai mezashikeri



Komatsu hiki, 小松引 Pulling Pine Seedlings
..... First Day of the Rat (hatsune)
..... greens of the day of the rat, ne no hi gusa 子の日草
and a few more


Shihoo hai 四方拝, しほうはい  
Court ritual prayer to the four directions,
for peace on land and sea.



oni-gawara massara ni nari shihoo-hai

demon roof tiles -
becoming cleansed from the
prayer in four directions


Things found on the way

History of Food of Japan, by Naomichi Ishige

Related words

***** WKD: Ceremonies of Japan Nihon no Gyooji 日本の行事

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