Celebrating New Year In Japan: Things You Need To Know

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Once Christmas is over and the presents unwrapped, many people like to take a break away from it all and see in the new year in a new setting. Known as the “Land of the Rising Sun” Japan makes a great choice of destination to see the first sun rise on a new year, not least because this is a country that takes New Year celebrations seriously.

New Years Eve at a small temple in Japan

New Years Eve at a small temple in Japan

For the Japanese, the New Year, or shogatsu, is the most important time of year, with a large amount of tradition and ritual attached to its celebration. With this in mind we have put together a pocket guide to celebrating the New Year in Japan to help travellers understand the unique opportunities and challenges a trip to the country over this period can present.

Japanese New Year Philosophy

The Japanese see the ending of one year and the beginning of the next as representing the end of one era and commencement of another. In the Japanese philosophy the two periods are completely separate and, because of this, no loose ends should be carried over from one to the other. For this reason Japanese put great stock in finishing work and chores in advance of the celebration in order to allow themselves to start the new year afresh without any encumbrances from a time that has past. Japanese people see the New Year as a time to spend with friends and family, and also an important time in their religious calendar.

Japanese New Year Rituals

In Japan the New Year holiday runs from December 25 to January 3rd and many shops, businesses and tourist attractions will remain closed throughout this period. (Editor’s note: convenience stores, hotels and many department stores and restaurants will remain open, so you’re not going to go hungry!).

Buddhist monk at a temple in Kyoto.

Buddhist monk at a temple in Kyoto. These guys get pretty busy around New Year.

In the run up to the New Year, people across Japan will be travelling back to their homes to be with their families, meaning that public transport can be busy and crowded. For this reason visitors heading for Japan over the new year period may wish to consider private car hire to ensure ease of movement and comfort for their party.

Most Japanese will take a trip to a temple in the first few days of January, with the biggest temples attracting large crowds and offering a real party atmosphere. Other traditional activities done with family include kite flying and card games. Cards are sent to mark the New Year.

Japanese New Year Parties

In Japan New Year parties take two forms: the bonenkai parties which are held at the end of the December in order to forget the year and the shinnenkai parties which come in January to celebrate the arrival of the New Year. These parties are formal occasions for acquaintances and colleagues and are usually held at establishments outside the home families hold their own parties in the home.

Japanese New Year Foods

There is a number of traditional foods, which are consumed in Japan over the shogatsu period. Before the night itself most people will eat a dish of buckwheat noodles called toshikoshi soba, which symbolise a long life, while festivities will usually include a sweet sake called otoso and sticky rice soup called ozoni.

This article was contributed by a guest author. The contribue an article, photo or travel, please contact Dean at Japan Travel Mate.

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5 comments

  1. Japan Australia

    New Year (Oshougatsu) is the most important holiday in Japan, and much of the country shuts down from December 30 to January 3. This is usually not one of the best times to travel in Japan. Most people return home to spend the time with their families.

  2. Hello!

    I think this is my first comment here.
    I’ve never done the cleaning before New Year *ahem* …

    Come to think of it, this will be my first Japanese New Year that I spend alone. I’ve always been with Japanese families that I know every single year.
    However, due to my winter travel plan this year, it’s just not working out.

    And you’d think that most people go back home to spend the time with their families and yet all the hotels (espl. the onsen ryokan) are booked out completely … months in advance (not matter how early I try, I’m always too late ^^; ….)

    How do you usually spend the New Year Holidays? 🙂

    • Possibly your first comment, thanks for sending in a message! By the way I took a look at your blog, very nice stuff. Wish I had the time to update mine and make it a bit more Japanese-themed.

      From talking to friends many people when they travel back to their family stay at hotels, so that could be part of the reason why so many are booked out. Also being holiday period there will be many international travelers. A few of my friends from Australia come every year for the snow.

      And me, being an Aussie, usually stay indoors for the winter and hybernate… catchup on some movies or something. I don’t know where you are in Japan but I’m in Aichi, and right now it’s already far too cold for me!

      • Yes, that was my first comment here indeed! 😀
        I’ve added your blog to my Feedreader, so expect to be stalked from now on 😉

        I prefer to stay inside when it’s too cold, but when I have the chance to see something nice or go on a trip I usually endure it.
        For example, I stayed with the snow monkey in Nagano (I’m sure you know them when you live in Aichi) for 5h despite the cold because I couldn’t get enough of them! *g*

        I live very close to Kyushu, but that doesn’t matter weather-wise.
        It’s been super cold (minus degrees) and we got quite a bit of snow as well (which is rare). Stupid winter this year! :/

        • Well I don’t mind being stalked… by RSS anyway!

          I know what you mean – when the first snow of the season came on Boxing Day last year, I was outside in the snow like a kid all morning. But back to the usual daily routine – indoors with heaters is preferred.

          Speaking of travelling during the cold, I just got back from a weekend (4th time) in Kyoto – snow flurries, but 7 degrees, so not too bad.

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