When in Japan During the New Year

2018 has been a flurry of happenings. As the year draws to a close, it’s time to welcome 2019 with new hopes, goals and dreams!

The Japanese New Year or Shōgatsu is considered to be one of the most anticipated events in Japan.  Many Japanese mark the arrival of the New Year with age old traditions that haven’t changed much since they were first observed. When visiting Japan during Shōgatsu, there’s much to see and experience with all the revelry and excitement in preparation for the coming new year.

Check out some of the things to expect when spending the New Year in Japan:

Hatsumōde. | Dick Thomas Johnson

Watching NHK Kōhaku Uta Gassen on TV on New Year’s Eve.

Kōhaku is an annual New Year’s Eve television special. The show has been broadcasting since 1951. It has since been a New Year’s Eve tradition to watch the show in many Japanese households. The program divides the most popular musical artists of the year into competing teams. At the end of the show, judges and the audience vote to decide which group performed better and id proclaimed the winner.

Osechi-ryōri. | Stuart Rankin

Having osechi-ryōri for a New Year’s meal.

The tradition of osechi-ryōri for New Year is a tradition that can be traced to the Heian Period (794-1185). Osechi are similar to bento meals, only they are in more elaborate special boxes called jūbako (重箱). The term osechi was derived from o-sechi, meaning a season or significant period. In Japan, New Year’s Day was considered one of the five seasonal festivals in the Imperial Court in Kyoto.

Hatsumōde, the first temple visit of the year.

The first trip to a shrine or temple in the new year. These sacred places are crowded during New Year’s Eve and the next few days. Visitors dress up in kimonos if weather permits.  Crowds flock almost every shrine and temple across Japan. Festivities are scheduled all throughout the day adding to the festive atmosphere. Stalls dot most of the shrines, selling food, drinks, and lucky charms for the new year.

The Emperor’s New Year Greeting

On the 2nd of January, the Emperor makes several public appearances at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. It’s one of the few occasions in the year when the inner grounds of the palace is opened to the public.

Emperor’s New Year Greeting. | Cyril Bèle

This year will be Emperor Akihito’s last New Year greeting.  Crown Prince Naruhito, who over the years has already assumed some of his father’s duties, will succeed his father on the 1st of May, 2019 becoming the 126th Emperor to ascend to Japan’s Chrysanthemum Throne.