The tradition of New Year’s resolution … breaking
As an old Japanese saying goes, “The whole year’s plans are made on New Year’s Day.” That’s because many Japanese make New Year’s resolutions on the first day of the year, just like Americans.
I am no exception. I make a New Year’s resolution every year. I’ve done it almost as many years as I have been around (54).
My dear wife’s ceaseless unsolicited advice not drink too much, along with results from my annual physicals, have prompted my New Year’s resolution to be quitting or cutting back on drinking – every year for the past decade or two.
Too much drinking during customary “bonenkai” year-end parties always leaves me hung over, fueling plans every new year to quit drinking sake – that quintessential Japanese adult beverage that we also call “Nihonshu” (which literally means “Japanese liquor”).
Although I am a Roman Catholic, after attending church with my wife and daughter for Midnight Mass on New Year’s Day, I usually drop by a local Shinto shrine to make my New Year’s resolution. It’s a long-held Japanese tradition followed by Shinto believers and non-believers alike.
So I always feel delighted on New Year’s Eve, giddy with anticipation – and no small amount of Nihonshu – that I’ll begin keeping my resolution the next day.
Then morning comes.
The following morning is “Oshogatsu,” or New Year’s Day. And what self-respecting Japanese guy would snub the customary “toso,” a traditional sip of New Year’s sake on this special morning to kill off the evils that can bring bad luck to the coming year.
Is there a little “hair of the dog” involved? Perhaps. But I have been observing this great Japanese tradition without a fail since I was 3-years-old.
OK. I’ll admit it has also become my tradition to drink an entire bottle of tasty sake throughout the day on this auspicious occasion – just to ensure my New Year’s resolution gets that extra kick.
Anyway, on the second day of the year, as Japanese custom dictates, we visit or welcome family, relatives and neighbors to offer New Year’s greetings. And I can’t help but to enjoy another bottle of sake with them to celebrate the new year. It would be improper not to. This is time-honored tradition, after all.
On the third day, we meet more friends for New Year’s greetings and – yep, you guessed it – we drink with them as well. So, by the time Jan. 3 rolls around, I find that my resolution has already gone by the wayside. So it only makes sense to save it for the next year.
This is an annual resolution rite of passage for me.
Don’t laugh. Turns out I’m not the only one.
According to a survey by OPT-ism advertising agency, 85 percent of 1,000 Japanese ages 20-69 who made New Year’s resolutions gave them up by Jan. 15.
In general, it is not easy for us to keep New Year’s resolutions. In fact, there is nobody around that I know who has ever kept a New Year’s resolution.
So, how can I beat the trend and keep my resolution?
Designate a witness and a pre-determined penalty for breaking the resolution. At least that is what some say works. But I haven’t seen much success with this method either.
When I was in my 20s, some of my friends used to call me and ask me to act as a witness for their resolutions.
“I will definitely give up smoking,” one of my friends once told me. “If I break my resolution and you catch me smoking, just remind me and I will have to buy you lunch.”
A few weeks later, I found him smoking. When I reminded him, he smiled and kept puffing away.
“I decided to quit smoking on New Year’s Day according to the lunar calendar,” he said of the movable date that occurs about a month after Jan. 1 (Jan. 28 in 2017).
Needless to say, he didn’t quit smoking then either. And I never got my lunch.
Riki Natsume, an online advice columnist, suggests that the key to success is to simplify and specify your resolutions. For example, instead of vowing to “cut back” on the amount of sake you drink, commit to drinking no more than “two cans of beer a day.” Or set Mondays and Tuesdays as “drink-free days.”
It made sense to me.
So now I have a plan of action for my 2017 New Year’s resolution: I’m making Sundays my alcohol-free days next year.
Next year, Jan. 1 is a Sunday. OK, Mondays. Starting next year, Mondays will be my drink-free days – well, except for when I have the day off or it’s a holiday. (Did I mention that many Japanese holidays fall on Mondays?)
Anyway, I am confident I can pull off this New Year’s next year!
As you readers as my witnesses, I am looking forward to making this resolution on New Year’s Day with all earnestness before the altar. But not in church; heavens no!
I’ll just stop by the Shinto shrine on my way home - Just in case.