Looking for good spots to spend your New Years in Japan? Looking to learn more about unfamiliar Japanese New Year traditions? Ohako has you covered!
New Years in Japan
New Year's is perhaps the biggest holiday in Japan, so while in other countries it is common for it to be a party heavy holiday, the Japanese New Year revolves around family. This holiday period is so important that it extends itself into the first few days of the year.
So How Do They Celebrate?
Similar to Christmas cards, in Japan people will send New Year's Cards called "nengajo (年賀状)" to friends, family and coworkers. These cards should be delivered by January 1st and are meant to convey a sense of thankfulness to the reciever for all that they have done for you in the past year. If you've recieved a nengajo from someone who has not recieved one from you, send one back quick! With nengajo there is a cultural "send one, recieve one" rule!
There are several traditional New Years decorations that are placed around Japanese homes to bring in the New Year.
Kagami mochi: The most common decoration that can be found in a Japanese home is this particular offering to the gods. It features two stacked mochi balls topped with an orange and is positioned on the household Shintō altar.
Kadomatsu: This display contains three bamboo shoots, all a different length which represents prosperity. In also includes pine which represents longevity as well as plum branches which represents fidelity. It is believed that during this period of time that they contain visiting gods who will bring good fortune to the home.
Shimekazari: These objects are meant to invite and welcome gods of good fortune and to ward off evil spirits. They can be found above entryways and are made of of shimenawa (a sacred straw rope) as well as other objects.
Hamaya: These are arrows that are meant to destroys evil spirits. While some can be found hanging before the New Year, it is not uncommon to purchase new ones during the first few days of the new year.
Osechi Ryōri is the traditional Japanese food served on New Years day in Japan. This meal consists of a wide variety of different kinds of foods and are often placed in special containers called "jubako." With so many different foods, preperation for this meal tends to take quite some time.
Some foods include Toshikoshi soba (year-crossing noodles), ozoni (a mochi soup), datemaki (sweet rolled omelet) and much more!
Japanese people will make a "Hastumode" trip on one of the first three days of the year. This refers to their first visit of the year to a Buddhist tmeple or Shinto Shrine. Here, people pray for the New Year ahead and purchase traditional items such as amulets called "omamori."
Perhaps the only western equivalent to Fukubukuro is "Black Friday," though the comparision is still slightly off. Fukubukuro is a Japanese New Year tradition for businesses in which they prepare bags filled with random items for customers. These bags will be priced extremely low in comparison to the contents within so while the business may lose money, this practice is meant to welcome customers for the New Year.
Events: Looking for places in Tokyo for the New Year?
1. Countdown at Tokyo's Citizens' Square'
If you're looking for a free Tokyo countdown, be sure to check out the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Plaza in Nishi-Shinjuku on New Years Eve! Starting at 6:20 PM the event launches with a spectacular projection mapping light show which is scheduled to have appearances from singer-songwriter Pikotaro and Sanrio characters, including Hello Kitty! The event builds up to a countdown lantern release. Participation in the lantern release is no longer available but the designated viewing area is open!
2. Zojo-ji Temple New Year’s Countdown
If you're looking for a tradtional way to experience New Years in Japan, Zojo-ji Temple is located right under the bright lights of Tokyo Tower! Here, you can experience the monks ring the "Joya no Kane," a bell rung 108 times around midnight to usher in the New Year. Each hit of the bell marks the removal of 108 temptations, so that those at the temple can start the New Year pure. Other temples will have slightly different traditions but some other great temples include Sensoji Temple, Gohyakyrakan-ji Temple and Araiyakushi Baishoin!
If you're looking for a loud and proud place to bring in the New Year Shibuya, Shinjuku and Roppongi's clubs are known to have a plethora of New Year's events! However, Shibuya has been cracking down on public drinking during big holidays and this New Year's Eve is no exception, with the area banning public drinking. Be safe and be responsible!
4. Countdown Cruise
If you're looking for a unqiue countdown expereince, scenic countdown cruises are the way to go. These cruises will typically depar around 10:50 pm for a two and a half hour journey around Tokyo bay. These curises feature bands, a 20 dish buffet and all you an drink bar. However, these tickets do come at a high cost of 18,000 yen per seat.
5. Watch the first Sunrise in Tokyo
If you're an early riser (or an all-nighter) type of person then you might want to check out Tokyo's best viewpoints to watch the first sunrise of the year!
Tokyo Tower opens at 6 am and offers a commemorative coin to the first people up the Tower, but line up fast because there's sure to be a lot of people there!
Osanbashi in Yokohama is a free attendance area where you can watch the sunrise over the ocean
Mt Takao is a great spot to go if you're a hiker. Located on the edge of Tokyo you'll also get the chance to visit Yakuoin Temple for your hatsumode!
Kasai Rinkai Park is along the coastline and is only 15 minutes from Tokyo Station. Here you;ll have and endless horizon to view the sunrise!
6. 73rd Kōhaku Uta Gassen
If you're a homebody and want to experience a night in the Japanese way then tune your TV to watch the 73rd Kōhaku Uta Gassen! Kōhaku Uta Gassen is yearly New Year's eve "song battle" in which a Red and White team consisting of the year's most popular artists compete for the judges and audiences votes! The show ends just before midnight and is a lot of fun to watch, especially if you're a music fan!