The First Calligraphy in the New Year is called "Kakizome" or "Kissho-hajime" and it is one of many "firsts," as we have hatsugama (the first tea ceremony), hatsu-ike (the first flower arragement), hatsu-ni (the first cargo), and hatsuyori (the first visit to their music teacher by maiko).
Traditionally, kakizome was performed with the first water drawn from the well on New Year's day (wakamizu) - the water was used to rub the ink stick in to make ink. People would be seated in the lucky direction of the year according to the zodiac signs and write poetry containing auspicious expressions as "long life" or "eternal spring."
In modern Japan, kakizome has mainly become a children's activity. Pupils are assigned kakizome as their winter holiday homework. They write auspicious expressions (kibo no haru, "a hopeful spring," hatsu-yume, "first dream," etc.) or New Year resolutions rather than poems. The results, written in bold characters on long rectangular pieces of paper like hanging scrolls, are exhibited together in the school.
Brush and ink were brought from China in the distant past and calligraphy, Shodo, has become an inseparable part of Japanese culture. But due to the use of computer keyboards, also in Japan most people now have bad handwriting. Even more seriously, they are forgetting the Chinese characters, so in recent years we have seen many books published to stimulate people to write kanji again by hand. This is also considered to be good for your brain and a means to ward off old-age forgetfullness.
The results of the kakizome are usually displayed until January 15. In some parts of Japan they are then burned together with the New Year decorations. The higher the burned flakes soar, the more accomplished your handwriting will become!