Oshogatsu, the new year’s holiday is very important in Japan. Families gather in their homes to spend quality time together and carry out some Japanese new year traditions. Apart from the busy public transport as people travel to their hometowns, it’s quite a quiet time because people are often at home. If it is your first time experiencing New Years in Japan, you might be surprised to find most places (including restaurants, museums, and entertainment facilities) are closed for a few days over the new year holiday – this has caught a lot of people out on their first time in Japan during oshogatsu.
What to do on New Years Eve in Japan
Unlike in big cities in the West, New Year’s Eve isn’t necessarily a raucous night of partying out in the big cities. Oshogatsu isn’t just about New Year’s Eve but about New Year’s Day and the days following. Although Tokyo is famous for its Shibuya crossing countdown event (which is canceled this year), many people leave the big cities to spend time with their families in their hometowns over the new year holiday.
So, this may leave you wondering what to do on New Years Eve in Japan… Nevertheless, there are still a lot of countdown events. If you want to enjoy a countdown party, your best bet is heading to the bigger cities where there are plenty of smaller events that will still be on in bars and such.
Another popular tradition over the more recent years that may be an option if you are wondering what to do on New Years Eve in Japan is a TV show. “Kohaku Uta Gassen” is a music TV show often watched by families on New Year’s Eve. It features various beloved enka and J-pop singers carrying out exciting performances.
Japanese New Year Traditions
The best part of spending New Years in Japan is being able to experience some of the many Japanese new year traditions. One of these Japanese new year traditions is hatsumode, which involves visiting a temple or shrine over one of the new year holiday days. Some of the most popular hatsumode destinations include the Meiji Shrine in Tokyo, Fushimi Inari Taisha in Kyoto, and Sumiyoshi Taisha in Osaka. To anyone considering what to do on New Years Eve in Japan, perhaps the most exciting time to try hatsumode and visit a shrine or temple is at the turn of the new year, when the large bells are rung. However, due to COVID-19, many people are instead opting to visit at a later date to avoid the larger crowds.
Hatsuhinode, which describes the viewing of the first sunrise is one of the Japanese new year traditions many people enjoy on New Year’s Day. The first sunrise is said to represent renewal and the hope that comes with the new year. Not only is it a beautiful practice, that can promote mindfulness, but it may be a particularly good one to try out considering the current times! Shrines and mountaintops are popular spots to take in the spectacular first sunrise of New Year’s Day.
If you’re not going to be up early in the morning, perhaps you could instead take in the sunset from one of Japan’s many beautiful viewing spots, either at observation points in big cities or out in nature, or shrines. Though it’s not a tradition, it may be a nice calming end to New Year’s Day!
Japanese New Years Food
If you want to know what to do on New Years Eve in Japan, one of the oshogatsu traditions is toshikoshi soba. On New Years Eve, this simple noodle dish is often served as a symbolic crossing into the new year and is said to bring good fortune. Each slurp of the long toshikoshi soba noodles symbolizes a fulfilling and peaceful life. And, just like how the noodles break up so easily in your mouth, you can symbolically break free from the past. Toshikoshi soba is made from buckwheat noodles, with the buckwheat representing strength and resilience, as well as fortune.
Osechi is another one of the culinary Japanese new year traditions. Osechi Ryori is traditionally enjoyed on New Year’s Day and consists of a colorful selection of dishes packages in special lacquer boxes called jubako, similar to bento boxes. The presentation alone is a great reason to try Osechi Ryori. The Osechi dishes are served cold and each dish is said to have a different meaning related to Oshogatsu. Some Osechi does come at a hefty price tag and some are even ordered months in advance, but it is worth trying this tradition at least one New Years in Japan!
Ornaments for the New Year holiday
If you spend a New Years in Japan, you’ll likely come across a variety of different ornaments around houses and businesses. Decorating homes and businesses with symbolic ornaments is one of the Japanese new year traditions.
Shimekazari ward of evil spirits and invite in good fortune. The shimekazari ornament is made up of sacred straw rope, pine, and bitter orange.
Kadomastu is placed at the entrance and is made up of three bamboo shoots of different lengths representing prosperity, pine which symbolizes longevity, and plum branches which symbolize steadfastness.
Kagami mochi, consists of two stacked rice cakes topped with an orange, which is placed on a Shinto altar and is an offering to the gods.
New Years in Japan is such a unique celebration, rich with culture. It’s a great time to get in touch with some Japanese traditions! We hope you have a great holiday, Happy New Year!