Getting to Know the Japanese New Year

Posted by on December 29, 2014 – Japanese Study
New Year

Unlike China and Korea, which still follow the old calendar, Japan celebrates New Year according to the the modern calendar. The celebration is considered to be a more important event than Christmas and as such, many companies and public facilities have about a week long holiday from the end of the year to around Jan 1st – Jan 3rd.

How to spend New Year’s in Japan?

In the past, most shops were closed from January 1st to January 3rd. People would spend New Year in more or less the same way. Let’s take a look at some of the main activities.

大掃除 Cleaning

To prepare and welcome the New Year, Japanese people clean up not only their homes, but also their offices!

おせち料理の準備 – Preparing the osechi 

The osechi is the name for the specialties Japanese eat to celebrate the New Year. The dishes will vary depending on the region. Originally, most people would spend two or three days cooking the dishes at home. Nowadays, it’s not uncommon for Japanese to order them from supermarkets and fancy shops.

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大みそか – December 29, 30

One custom, originated from the Edo era, consists of eating soba on New Year’s Eve. The long thin noodles represent long life. These noodles are also easy to cut, which represents cutting away the bad luck of the previous year.

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Another regular feature of New Year’s Eve is the singing contest,Kouhaku Utagassen (Red White Singing Contest),  broadcasted by the NHK. The red team, which is made up of female singers, and the white team, which is made up of male singers, compete with each other.

除夜の鐘 – New Year’s Eve Bells

On New Year’s Eve, from 11:45, Buddhist temples will rang the bells, for a total of 108 times. This represent the removal of the 108 worldly desires. If you’re lucky enough to live next to a temple, do not miss this unique experience!

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元旦 – January 1st

On the first morning of the year, Japanese families eat rice cake soup and the osechi dishes they’ve prepared (or ordered!). The New Year wishes cards posted from November to the end of December (年賀状) will be distributed in all homes. No wonder the beginning of the year is the busiest time for Japanese post offices!

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初詣 – Shrine visit

Another custom is the first visit to a shrine or temple. People pray for safety and peace over the coming year. The most famous temples in Japan are terribly crowded and it’s not rare to wait for a few hours before being able to pray. Each year, about 2,5 to 3 millions visitors will come to pray in the Meiji shrine and in the famous Asakusa Sensouji temple!

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福袋 – Lucky Bag

In Japan, the lucky bags are a serious institution and you’ll get real bargains. If you cannot chose brands, you’ll still get at least an idea of what could be inside. Prices range from 10,000 yens to 100,000 if you’re tempting your luck in an electronic store! The value of the lucky bag’s goods is often worth twice as much. Many customers will wait in mine to get their hands on a lucky bag.

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And if you’re more interested in spending New Year indoors, we’ve got the right Japanese expression for you: 寝正月: sleeping New Year!

We hope you’re enjoying festivities and that you’re spending a good time with your family and friends.


Coto Japanese Academy is a unique Japanese Language School in Iidabashi Tokyo, we offer relaxed and fun conversational lessons for all levels of Japanese learner. Coto Japanese Academy prides itself on its community atmosphere and fun lessons that focus on creation of opportunities to speak and learn Japanese. If you are interested in studying Japanese in Tokyo – please visit our contact page here.