Japan to greet New Year with ‘Kohaku,’ shrine visits, shopping and snowstorms


Millions of Japanese people will visit neighborhood shrines in Japan on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, return to their home towns to be with their families and watch the New Year TV program "Kohaku Uta Gassen" (Red and White Song Contest) on NHK as part of the annual New Year celebration.

Shrines are expected to be crowded on Wednesday, the first day of the Year of the Rat in the Chinese zodiac. Meiji Shrine in Tokyo, in particular, welcomes a huge wave of worshippers each year on Dec 31 and Jan 1. The gigantic shrine expects three million visitors in the first three days of the new year. Smaller neighborhood shrines throughout the country also receive a steady stream of visitors.

For those staying at home on Tuesday night, NHK's popular “Kohaku Uta Gassen” will air from 7:15 p.m. Though it has lost some of its luster in the past 10 years, “Kohaku” – being held for the 70th consecutive year -- is still considered the most prestigious TV music program to be invited to appear on. Up to 35% of Japan's TV audience is expected to watch the four-hour program.

Although parties and countdown events aren't as popular in Japan as in Western countries (think of New Year's Eve in Japan as akin to Christmas Eve in the West), there are big events planned at some of the hotels, clubs, pubs and restaurants in the major cities.

In Tokyo's Shibuya district, traffic will be prohibited from entering the famous scramble crossing from 10 p.m. until 2 a.m. so that the thousands of revelers can gather in relative safety. Public consumption of alcohol is also prohibited. The measures have been taken because crowds have been increasing each year, causing massive traffic jams and pedestrian congestion.

If you're out and about, you'll hear lots of bells. At midnight, temple bells will strike 108 times -- a ritual known as Joya no Kane. According to Buddhist beliefs, the number 108 corresponds to the number of evil desires that we suffer from. It is believed that by listening to or ringing the bell 108 times, you can rid yourself of those evil desires.

Getting home won't be a problem, at least in Tokyo. Subways and trains in the nation's capital run throughout the night -- the only night each year they do so.

Meanwhile, markets and malls across the nation have been packed with shoppers on Monday and Tuesday, looking for last-minute bargains.

Most stores used to close for Jan 1-3, but not anymore. Many department stores and other retailers open on New Year's Day, offering huge discounts, to take advantage of families and their children who wish to spend their otoshidama (monetary gifts from parents and grandparents). They also will be selling fukubukuro (lucky sealed bags containing items generally worth double the value of the purchase price).

On the other hand, at least 150 convenient stores have indicated they will close on New Year’s Day for the first time, due to an ongoing labor shortage and fewer customers, especially in business districts and rural areas.

If you're in Tokyo on Jan 2, the imperial palace will be open to the public. The emperor, empress and other members of the imperial family will greet well-wishers from the balcony three times during the day. Tens of thousands of people usually attend these greetings each year.

Many other cultural events continue at least until Jan 6 in most prefectures.

On the weather front, the Japan Meteorological Agency has forecast strong storms for prefectures along the Sea of Japan coast for Wednesday and Thursday. It said unstable atmospheric conditions caused by a cold air mass are likely to bring strong wind gusts and snowstorms.

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I haven't missed a Kohaku in 20 years. Although, the production values aren't as good as they used to be. It used to be an amazing feat to put on such a show, the way they used to do it. It's still pretty impressive getting that many acts on schedule in a single show with almost zero technical problems. But, it used to be more impressive.

I was quite impressed with the Japan Record Awards shown last night, which had a higher production value. Beautiful stage, lighting, and video design. Granted, there weren't as many acts, and many of them were crap. But, it was a beautiful production.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Looks like there are many interesting things to do on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day in Japan. I wish one day I can experience them.

May 2020 be a good year to all JT staff and readers.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I think I will give Kohaku a miss. I would rather watch my parents in flagrante. And one of my parents is dead.

5 ( +8 / -3 )

Can’t think of anything worse than kohaku

5 ( +7 / -2 )


You’ve never spent New Year’s Eve in Scotland, then....

3 ( +4 / -1 )

You’ve never spent New Year’s Eve in Scotland, then....

A pub crawl through the worst neighborhoods of Glasgow while suffering from an inflamed, ingrown toenail is more tolerable than Kohaku. More entertaining as well.

2 ( +5 / -3 )

 pub crawl through the worst neighborhoods of Glasgow while suffering from an inflamed, ingrown toenail is more tolerable than Kohaku.

I'm assuming lucabrasi was referring to the TV offerings in Scotland at New Year. Pretty dreadful. I think the idea is to get everyone out of the house and spend their money on booze at the various outdoor events.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

Thanks for the clarification, alba. Those horrible “Hogmanay Specials” with the interminable pipe bands and the fat-legged dancing lassies...

Mind you, Kiss and a computer-generated Misora Hibari are doing their worst tonight....

4 ( +4 / -0 )

You can always turn off kohaku and watch 5 guys get their arses spanked if they laugh. I think I will join Derek.God the TV is awful.I 'd prefer an evening with jehovah witnesses

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Happy New Year to everyone! (here you have to imagine lots of party emojis).

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Can’t think of anything worse than kohaku

You crying??..

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

Happy new year everyone! Sydney will ring in 2020 with fireworks to add to the already smoky atmosphere- way to go Sydney、very imaginative (said with tongue in cheek)

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Derek GrebeDec. 31, 2019  07:09 pm JST

I think I will give Kohaku a miss. I would rather watch my parents in flagrante. And one of my parents is dead.

NYE with the in-laws gives me no escape. It’s very much like Alex’s ‘deprogramming’ scene in A Clockwork Orange. And tonight’s show was, to be frank, one of the worst. The sideshow that was ‘mime-along with KISS’ was especially dreadful.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Happy New Year Japan!!!!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Happy New Year to all and may you all have peace and prosperity. Look forward to being back after spending the Christmas overseas.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

A very happy and a healthy 2020 to all.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Happy New Year to everyone at JT!

Here in Kansas City, Missouri we had the usual folks shooting off fireworks.

Friends reported gunfire in some neighborhoods.I stayed inside to read and actually fell asleep.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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