Gil Asakawa's Nikkei View | Lunar New Year isn’t just for Chinese
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Lunar New Year isn’t just for Chinese

2010 is the year of the Tiger in the Chinese zodiac.As a kid in Japan, we always celebrated New Year’s Day, or Oshougatsu, on January 1, just like in the United States, but with different traditions than in America. Japanese clean the house like crazy leading up to the day, and New Year’s Eve isn’t the big party that it is in the U.S. Instead, New Year’s Day is more important, with a family feast featuring special dishes that are made just for the day (called “osechi ryori“). For days everyone visit family and friends to start the year with a fresh slate.

We never celebrated “Chinese New Year.” Looking back, the January 1 New Year is another affectation of Japan’s fascination with the West: Until 1873, Japan celebrated the New Year at the start of the lunar calendar, along with most East Asian and Southeast Asian countries. But five years after the start of the “Meiji Restoration,” when the Japan opened up to the West and began embracing Western ways, the country changed the official date of its New Year to the Roman, or Grgeorian calendar.

In the U.S., most people call the Lunar New Year “Chinese” and it’s become a popular not-quite-holiday, a mid-winter blast of Chinese culture. But it’s not just a Chinese celebration. It may have spread through the influence of China, but the Lunar New Year is celebrated with different traditions in Korea (as Seollal), Vietnam (Tet), Tibet (Losar) and Mongolia (Tsagaan Sar). It’s also celebrated in countries with large ethnic Han Chinese populations, such as Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia and Macau, and in Chinese communities throughout the world.

In 2010, the start of the Lunar New Year falls on Valentine’s Day — Feb. 14 — and heralds the Year of the Tiger in the Chinese Zodiac.

So, to ALL my Asian brothers and sisters everywhere, HAPPY NEW YEAR OF THE TIGER (and Valentine’s Day)!