New Years in Japan isn’t quite the same as it is in Western countries. When the clock struck midnight, there were no fireworks in the sky over Tokyo, nor shouts and cheers outside. Instead, I heard the distant clang of the temple bells ringing 108 times to announce the new year.
In most Western countries, Christmas is the main event in December, and New Year is a kind of bonus that requires you to hang around your parents’ house for another week and keep greeting all these relatives whose names you can’t remember. But in Japan, New Year is the main event, while Christmas is a commercial thing added on to make you buy lots of chicken and cake.
As New Year approaches, the colours red and white start appearing everywhere, and you start seeing adverts to pre-order osechi ryouri, a special meal you eat on the first day of the year.
I tried some osechi ryouri, but it tasted a bit strange. Maybe because I’d picked the half price osechi ryouri from local supermarket, instead of the super-pricey boxes from Daimaru. Traditionally osechi ryouri is supposed to be eaten over several days, so the food is cooked to last that long without a fridge. Which means lots of pickled things and strong sour flavours. The egg roll was nice though!
Another New Year tradition is Hatsumode, your first visit to the shrine for the year. You can go as early as midnight, so of course once I was done looking at the firework-less sky, I went down to my local shrine.
After praying, you can buy an amulet to give you luck for the rest of the year, and try your luck at omikuji, a paper fortune that tells you how the next year will go for you. If your fortune looks particularly bleak and horrible, you can tie it to a tree in the shrine grounds, and it’ll prevent it from coming true. Be careful though, New Year is one of the few times all the shops shut in Japan, so there might not be much for you to do. But if you’re after a quiet, traditional holiday, New Year might be the perfect time to visit Japan.