The word shogatsu, which is politely referred to as o-shogatsu, historically meant the first month of the lunar calendar. The calendar was changed from the lunar calendar to the Gregorian solar calendar in 1872. Since then the shogatsu period has been set according to the Gregorian calendar. Today, shogatsu generally means the first three days of the year or the first week of January. Japan had as many as three different New Year’s periods when the lunar calendar was used. One was oshogatsu, which means big New Year, the day that fell on the first day of the first month of the lunar calendar. The other New Year was called koshogatsu which means little New Year. Koshogatsu referred to the three-day period in the middle of the first month that includes the fifteenth day. The third New Year was called setsubun. This festival took place on the last day of winter, the third day of the second month, according to the lunar calendar. People celebrated setsubun because they thought that the next day was the first day of spring, and therefore the first day of the year.
Koshogatsu, little New Year, started with the first full moon of the year and was also referred to as the second New Year. Koshogatsu was closely related to agriculture. The principles of yin and yang taught that the goddess of agriculture named Toshitokujin or Toshigami brought good fortune for the year. Therefore, koshogatsu is still celebrated now, mainly in rural areas in Japan, where many people are still engaged in agriculture.
During the koshogatsu period people pray for an abundant harvest for the year. Various events also take place. Japanese people make decorations for koshogatsu such as mayudamas to bring good luck. Mayudamas are bamboo or willow twigs hung with many small cocoon-shaped rice cakes or dumplings. Oval-shaped Japanese gold coins, treasure ships, and other such things are hung from between the rice cakes and dumplings. The gold coins are called kobans and the treasure ships are called takarabunes in Japanese. They are both believed to bring good fortune. There are many other events that take place during the koshogatsu period. The event called toshiura tells us whether the harvest for the year will be good or bad and how the weather will be during the year. Torioi and dondo are also typical events that take place during the koshogatsu period.