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Ringing in the New Year

Written by Meghan Bridges

How is the new year celebrated in Japan? Find out more about this very special time of year for Japanese people.

The end of the year has come around again. New Year is the most important holiday in Japan, and New Year’s Day is a time for people in Japan to return to their hometowns and spend time with their extended families.
In Japan, a series of traditions and events are celebrated around New Year’s Day so let’s take a look at some of them.
Often translated as “year-forgetting parties”, a bonenkai is the end of year drinking party in which co-workers or groups of friends usually participate.
A bonenkai is known for being the party where you can leave the old year’s worries and troubles behind. Drinking establishments are normally fully booked in
the fi nalweeks of the year as companies hold their last drinking party of the year with co-workers or clients.

Kohaku Uta Gassen
One of the most popular TV programs to see out the end of the year is the Kohaku Uta Gassen. This music program, shown on New Year’s Eve, features many of
Japan’s famous singers, who are split into two teams: red and white. The two teams perform a large variety of their own popular songs, which is televised and put
to the audience for voting. The program runs until right before midnight, when a winning team is chosen from the voting results.
New Year’s Eve soba
A common tradition in Japan is to eat toshikoshi soba (‘year-end’ buckwheat noodles) on the last day of the year. This is to wish for longevity and soba are often
eaten as the last meal before the New Year. However, eating soba after midnight is thought to bring bad luck.

The fi rst shrine visit of the year is called hatsumode. After midnight, many people head to either their local shrine or to one of the famous shrines in Japan.
During hatsumode, shrine visitors often offer their first prayers of the year and
get their omikuji (paper fortune) which will give them their fortune for the new year.
Many people also go to listen to the joya no kane at temples where a purifi cation bell is rung 108 times at midnight. In Buddhist beliefs there are 108 evil desires that
humans can succumb to. Listening to the purifi cation bell chimes 108 times is believed to rid the body of these evil desires. Many visitors will also be leaving the shrine with hamaya, wooden ceremonial arrows, which are used to ward off evil spirits. These are normally kept in people’s homes to protect their living space and
then taken back to the shrine the following year to be ceremonially burnt.
With so many events and activities in the New Year, Japan can get rather busy. What do you have planned for this New Year’s?



By Meghan Bridges


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Meghan Bridges

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