Welcoming the New Year, Japanese Style

It’s Reiwa Year 3 in Japan, or the big 2021, year of the Tokyo Olympics! What happens during a Japanese New Year? Here are some common things people do to pass the previous year and welcome the new one.

New Year’s Eve in Japan

Eating Toshi-koshi Soba

You “pass the year” (toshikoshi) with soba. Why soba? It’s said that soba noodles cut more easily than other types, so it symbolizes “cutting away the bad things from the year.” It’s a tradition dating back to the Edo period.

Watching Kouhaku Utagassen

The famed Kouhaku! NHK’s song contest on TV where famous artists come on stage and duke it out between two teams, red (“kou”) and white (“haku”). The red/white team split is akin to those in schools, where you tag yourself red or white to show your team color.

It’s one of Japan’s most popular sources of entertainment prior to countdown.

Seeing Hatsu Hinode

A sun raising from the sea. A Japanese New Year always starts with "hatsu hinode," or the first sunrise.

Folks in Tokyo who want to see the New Year’s sunrise might go down to the seaside at night. One cool way to ring in the new year.

New Year’s Day

Going to Hatsumode

A woman in kimono praying at the shrine for the new year in Japan

Those who watched Kouhaku and have some stamina go to the nearest big temple or shrine to pray for the year ahead. It’s not really a religious thing, though – more cultural than anything else. There, they can drink amazake, or sweet wine, which isn’t actually alcoholic.

Receiving and Sending Nengajo, New Year’s Greetings

2021 "nengajo" or new year postcard celebrating the year of the ox
Credit: Webpo

By the time New Year Day rolls around, some of these nengajo, or New Year’s greetings, may have arrived in your mailbox.

Typically, you can find appropriate text on sites like these, and plenty of templates on sites like these. Most people send them prior to the actual new year, so their friends, family, and business relations receive them in time.

Eat Osechi

People eat Japanese bentos called "osechi" for New Year

Osechi is prepacked food to keep you and your kin from going hungry while all the stores are closed during the New Year’s holiday. More traditional families will make it themselves, but it’s also sold online and at department stores.


How do you spend your New Years? Here, we explored some new and traditional things that Japanese people do during this holiday season.

Happy New Year, from all of us at The Best Japan!

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