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Series STUDENT'S CORNER Toshikoshi 年越し SELENA HOY D O you have any end-of-year special traditions? For some people, New Year’s Eve means a party with friends and fancy clothes. In Japan, there are a few different ways to say goodbye to the old year. New Year’s Eve is a quiet time to spend at home with family and perhaps visit a local temple. The traditional meal on New Year’s Eve varies but is often concluded with a hot bowl of noodles called toshikoshi soba, which means, year-end buckwheat noodles. Why buckwheat noodles? There are a few explanations that are given about its significance. One is that the buckwheat plant is especially strong. Even in bad weather, it bounces back. So by eating it, perhaps we too can be strong and resilient. Another is that the noodles are long and thin, and eating them symbolizes a long life. And yet there is also a reason that goldsmiths used to use 22 | highlighting japan buckwheat flour dough to pick up loose gold dust around their smithing shops. So by eating these noodles, people hope that good fortune also sticks to them. Strength, long life, good fortune: great things to wish for. After eating the warming and lucky noodles, it’s time to gather up last year’s protection amulets and good luck charms to do misokapparai, or year-end purification. In this ritual, a special stick is festooned with paper streamers and waved around all corners of the house to banish any evil spirits that may be lurking. Be gone, evil spirits! It is then planted in the ground outside to guard the home. Now it’s time to head to the temple. In the last hours of the year, there is a ceremony called joya no kane, or New Year’s Eve bells. In this ritual, the temple bell is rung 108 times, each chime representing an earthly temptation fading away.