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This is what Japanese people do on New Year's Eve

December 29, 2018

What is New Year's Eve in Japan like?

Omisoka (pronounced as Oh-me-so-ka), that is what Japanese people call new year's eve. About the time Christmas finishes, people get busy again preparing for the year-end and new year season in Japan.

Arguably, the new year's day is the most important day in Japan. So, preparation for making everything neat & clean before the day matters as well.  

For this reason, people in Japan clean everything up in this season. It's an 'end of year' massive cleaning. So, they tend to clean the places where normally they never do. Literally, cleaning everywhere. In this season, you'll find a lot of cleaning equipment in a store for this reason.

Even there?

Big Cleaning Up in Japan

Most workers finish work around by 28th December and many of them go back home if their hometown is far from where they currently live. Going back home for meeting the family is the most common for most Japanese people still today.

In this season, Shinkansen (bullet train) and all roads are insanely busy.

Bullet train in year-end of Japan

In the west, Christmas is the day when all family members meet up but Christmas is for lovers in Japan. Instead of Christmas, New year holiday is exactly when Japanese family gather up and enjoy. 

Most businesses in Japan will resume the work on 4th of January. Thus, the period from 28th December to 3rd January can generally be considered as new year's season in Japan. It's quite a long holiday, isn't it?

There're many traditions what Japanese people do for this period other than massive clean-up, TD Blog tell you the story!

What to Eat on New Year's Eve?

Soba Noodle (そば)

If you go to an overseas Japanese supermarket on new year's eve, you'll find one item is always missing. That is a soba noodle.

This tradition is widespread throughout Japan and many people eat the noodle on this day every year. This is the most typical ritual for the Japanese to 'finish' the year. There're many stories of its origin. Soba noodle is easy to be bitten off than other kinds of noodles. So, 'cutting' all the troubles off before the following year comes is one of them.

Soba noodle on New Year's Eve in Japan

Of course, you can buy soba noodle or instant soba noodle cup and enjoy eating at home, but I would definitely recommend to eating soba noodle at 'noodle stand'. This is the most authentic place to eat soba in Japan.

In this shop, you are supposed to eat standing and expected to finish and leave within 5-10 minutes. It's as same as espresso bar in Italy. Never stay too long. 

By the way, Tokyo Direct has a wonderful collection of soba noodles, please check it out.

This is the best place to eat soba noodle.

Soba Noodle Stand in Japan


This rice cake (Mochi) soup is also the most commonly eaten dish for the new year's season. You can still eat a bit earlier as well. 

This soup has an extremely simple taste with soy sauce and dashi (soup bonito stock). This type of soup can be seen in other Japanese cuisines as well, but Ozouni has rice cake in it. Eat as it's very hot, it's just amazing.

Japanese Ozouni Rice Cake Soup

What Japanese People to Watch?

In Germany, there's a movie called 'Dinner for One' which many Germans watch on new year's eve. More interestingly, that movie is not in German, but in English (and the script is written by a British writer).

Like the Germans watch 'Dinner for One' on the day, Japanese people watch a TV program in the evening of 31st Decemer every year. That program is a music program called 'Kohaku-Uta-Gassen' (紅白歌合戦). 


NHK Kohaku Uta Gassen in Japan


More than half of the people in Japan used to watch this program (that's a lot). Now the number has been declined, but almost one-third of the population in Japan still watch it. 

As this is almost a national-event program and all generations in Japan watch it, from old to the latest singers and musicians perform in this program.  

To attend and perform in the program is a milestone for most singers and bands in Japan. It's literally a dream stage for them. 

Some singers are famous for its 'extravaganza' style of costume in performance. What the heck is this?  

 NHK Kohaku Uta Gassen in Japan

What to Do after Eat & Watch

When you spend a night of new year's eve in Japan, you'll hear the sound of a bell from somewhere. Don't worry, it's quite normal. Everyone does. And it must be from the temple nearby.

Presumably, you can't tell how many time the bell tolled. But, Japanese people know the exact number without counting it. It's 108 times and the number is believed to be the number of earthly 'desires' such as materialistic desire in Buddhism and every single time the bell tolls, they vanish.

New Year's Eve in Japan

In the evening of new year's eve in Japan is pretty quiet rather than hearing endless noise of fireworks in the west. People spend the last moment of the year hearing the sound of the bell and the time passes calmly. 

If you prefer a lively atmosphere, let's go to the shrine. There're two common ways to do this. First one is 'Ninen-mairi' (Two-year visit) which is to leave your home late night on new year's eve and visit a shrine and come back home on the next morning. By doing so, you pay a visit to the shrine in both years which is 'Two-year ' visit. Don't worry, public transport in Tokyo is running all night on the day.

New Year's Visit to shrine in Japan

Another option is to visit a shrine after new year's day. Normally, most people go to shrines in the first 3 days of the year as they go back to work on 4th of January. In this period, you'll see a crazy amount of people in all major shrines. So, please visit after this period unless you want to be squeezed by the crowds. No problem about the timing. No matter which day you visit, your wishing will come true if you pray genuinely. 

No way back once you're in... your patience will be tested.

New year's overcrowded shrine in Japan

Wish you the best of luck in 2019! 

Thanks for reading.






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