After the New Years, I was reflecting on it in both the US and Japan. While similar, they have their start differences. I’ll go into greater detail in a bit, but the primary difference is in loudness. It’s actually interesting when you think of how different cultures celebrate the new year. Here in the US, we go for a lively and loud entrance into the new year. From a young age I remember trying to stay up to the ‘magic hour’ and the countdowns from the various times. Even when I turned 21, nothing really changed. I wasn’t really into clubbing, partying, so a nice quiet New Years Eve with snack, drinks and family has been the tradition.
I’d never go to Times Square on the ground floor, it’s just a mad house. It’s actually pretty enjoyable to watch it on TV. I liken it to watching football on TV vs live game.
Without further ado, a lesson on New Years in Japan
New Year’s or Shougatsu in Japan
For the New Year or ‘Shougatsu’, the celebration is a little different. While we lively bring in the New Year, Japan has a more quiet celebration. Although some places have fireworks, they are the exception.
During the ‘Shougatsu’ time (Jan 1-3), the Japanese get one of their rare vacations in the year. During the days preceding it, Japan’s transportation system is at its busiest. Busses, trains and the shinkansen are the most crowded and expensive of the year. People return to their home town to spend time with family and the country almost ‘shuts down’. One nation-wide event is the ‘Kouhaku Uta Gassen’ or a singing competition hosted by NHK. The two sides are white (male) and red (white). After the competitions, it’s common to go to a local temple or shrine.
On Jan 1st, they have ‘o-sechiryouri’ or the traditional new year’s dishes. (Each dish has a meaning.) Next families will visit larger temples and shrines to get blessings for the year. This is known as ‘hatsumode’ and there are usually large festivals there that have the typical ‘matsuri’ or festival foods like takoyaki, okonomiyaki, and yakisoba.
It’s also a time of rest for the Japanese, when families might just relax at home and watch TV.
- People send the equivalent of Christmas cards on Jan 1st called ‘Nengajo’.
- Children receive ‘otoshidama’, money from relatives.
- Famous Hakone marathon is Jan 1st
- Mystery Box sales starting Jan 1st (basically you get random stuff from the store but worth more than the price you paid.)
- Interestingly enough, the original Japanese new year was the same as China’s.
Related to the New Years, are the end of the year parties or ‘bonnenkai’, drinking parties with coworkers, classmates and friends. On one hand it’s celebratory, and on the other it’s a way to say goodbye to the old year.