Before coming to Japan, New Year’s Eve had a different meaning for me. It was a time for dancing and partying all night with friends, counting down to midnight and, of course, drinking lots and lots of champagne. As a result, New Year’s Day was often a day for rest and recovery from the night before.
Now that I live in Japan, however, my New Year ways have dramatically changed. The all-night partying has been replaced with quiet family gatherings and my midnight countdown is accompanied by the solemn gongs of a Buddhist New Year bell.
New Year’s in Japan （日本のお正月）
New Year’s in Japan is similar to Christmas in North America and is traditionally a time to gather with family. New Year’s Eve, called oomisoka （大晦日） is, for me, a rather quiet time spent sitting in front of the TV watching NHK’s Kouhaku Utagassen （紅白歌合戦）. This is a show aired on Dec. 31 each year in which well known singers on the white (men’s team) compete against the red (women’s team). Even if you’re not into the singing, the outrageously flamboyant costumes and extravagant stage sets are always entertaining to watch.
Before New Year, it’s also customary to eat a bowl of soba noodles called toshi-koshi soba （年越しそば）. Toshi-koshi means to “cross over the year,” and eating them is said to symbolize, and hopefully promote, longevity. Then, before midnight, the huge bronze bells at Buddhist temples around Japan are struck 108 times to “cleanse the listener of the 108 sins and evil desires of mankind.” This is called joya no kane （除夜の鐘） and the last gong is timed just before the stroke of midnight, so we can all thankfully start the new year afresh.
You can go to a local temple to partake in this ritual but, if you’re too cold and lazy like me, you’ll be happy to know this ritual bell-ringing can also be watched on TV from the comfort of your own home.
On New Year’s Day, the most important ritual is to go to the local shrine for hatsumoude （初詣）and pray for good luck, happiness, health and good fortune. After this, a traditional Japanese New Year’s meal called osechi ryouri （おせち料理） with “festive” foods such as kazunoko konbu (fish roe on sea kelp), kuromame (black beans) and kamaboko (fish cake)and ozouni (mashed rice cakes called omochi in a clear soup) is served.
New Year’s is also a particularly joyous time for kids, since this is when they receive otoshidama （お年玉）, tiny envelopes with money inside.
New Year’s Eve 大晦日
A long-running NHK TV show aired on Dec. 31 in which famous singers on white team (men’s) and red team (women’s) compete. “Kou” means red and “haku” means white, and are symbolic colors used on joyous occasions such as New Year’s and weddings.
toshi koshi soba
Noodles eaten on New Year’s Eve symbolizing a long life.
joya no kane
A temple bell struck 108 times before midnight on New Year’s Eve to cleanse the soul.
New Year’s Day
New Year’s Day お正月 or 元旦
（ニューイアーズデイ） oshougatsu or gantan
The first visit of the year to a shrine to pray for good luck, happiness, health and good fortune.
The first sunrise of the year. (“Hatsu” means “first.”)
A festive meal eaten on New Year’s Day.
Money inside a small envelope given to young children as a New Year’s gift.
In North America New Year’s is like Christmas in Japan （北米のお正月は日本のクリスマス）
New Year’s resolution
New Year’s Greetings （新年の挨拶）
Happy New Year!
Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu.
All the best for the upcoming new year.
Kotoshi mo douzo yoroshiku onegaishimasu.
New Year Firsts （新年“初”）
Let’s go to Meiji Jingu to say our first prayers for the New Year.
Meiji Jingu e hatsumoude ni ikimashou.
I’m going to climb Hinode Mountain to see the first sunrise of the year.
Hatsu hinode wo miru tameni Hinode-yama wo nobotte kimasu.