New Years Eve in Japan
9th October, 2013
So you’re going to be in Japan for New Year while on your ski vacation? The Japanese New Year celebration is called shogatsu and for the Japanese it’s a family holiday more like the western Christmas than a night to party. New Year's Day on January 1 is a Japanese national holiday. It's the most important holiday in Japan. People greet each other with "akemashite-omedetou-gozaimasu" or Happy New Year wherever they meet for the first time in the New Year.
Japanese people like to eat traditional dishes during shogatsu. The favourite would be mochi, which is rice pounded into a thick paste and often flavoured. It is very thick and a little hard to eat and around 50 people die each year by choking on it!!
The Japanese have a custom of giving money to children during New Year's holidays. It's called otoshidama. If you are going to family gatherings where children will be present, it's good to prepare some envelopes with a little cash. The right envelopes are available at any stationary store.
It is traditional for the Japanese to visit a shrine or a temple during New Year's holidays and midnight or just after on New Years Eve is the most popular time. People pray for safety, health, good fortune, and so on. The first visit to a temple or shrine in a year is called hatsumoude and is special hence the midnight timing. The big temples and shrines in the main cities can get extremely crowded. Some of these urban temples and shrines receive millions of visitors during New Year's holidays each year. It is possible to visit a much less busy one in Hakuba too if you like.
Many businesses in Japan are closed between the 29th or 30th of December and the 3rd or 4th of January, though in Hakuba being a resort town only banks and government offices are closed. Many department stores though hold New Year's special sales, so it might be worth it to check the prices out if you have shopping needs.
If you are looking to party though there are still plenty of venues with the western style party till you drop attitude and the traditional countdown to midnight. Hakuba will be host to many of these!!