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.© Japan Today