How to Spend New Year’s Holiday in Japan

How to celebrate the New Year in Japan

New Year is the most important time of the year for Japanese people and it’s the time that you can experience authentic Japanese culture. There are many traditions and customs for Japanese New Year and you will realise how New Year is special for Japanese people.

The Japanese New Year is called Shogatsu involving various events and celebration starting from New Year’s Eve (Omisoka in Japanese) as people start gathering, prepare special dishes and get ready for traditions for the New Year’s Day (Gantan in Japanese).

If you have an opportunity to spend your New Year’s day in Japan, do as Japanese does! In this article, I’m going to introduce traditional things to do in Japan for New Year.


1. Join a Countdown Event

Many Japanese people spend New Year holiday season with their families at home, which is a similar custom to Christmas holiday in Western countries. However, there are also fun and exciting events on New Year’s Day that you can welcome the coming year in special ways. From fireworks to countdown parties, you can check out the best countdown events in Japan from the links below!

▶ Best Countdown Events in Japan

▶ Best Countdown Events in Tokyo

2. Listen to New Year’s Bell

Do you want to hear the sound of coming year? The New Year’s bell ceremony (Joya no Kane in Japanese) takes place at Buddhist temples and shrines across Japan at midnight of New Year’s Eve, with 108 times bell striking to celebrate the year year.

3. Slurp Toshikoshi Soba

Toshikoshi Soba is a Japanese buckwheat noodle dish that is traditionally eaten on the evening of New Year’s Eve. Slurping soba noodle on New Year’s Eve is a unique tradition in Japan that dates back to Edo period. It is believed that eating soba on that day is cutting hardship of the past year.

4. Visit a Shrine or Temple for Hatsumode

Hatsumode is the first shrine or temple visit of the year and it’s the most important custom of New Year in Japan. People visit shrines or temples to thrown coins and make wishes for new year typically in the first 3 days of new year. During the period, the shrines and temples across Japan get really busy even from the night of New Year’s Eve, and some popular ones have long waiting lines. You can check the famous shrines and temples in Japan for Hatsumode from the below links!

▶ Best Shrines and Temples for Hatsumode in Japan

▶ Best Shrines and Temples for Hatsumode in Tokyo

5. Watch the First Sunrise

Japanese people tend to be active after welcoming a new year, and many go out to capture the first sunrise of the year in very early morning of the New Year. Accordingly, watching the first sunrise is a traditional custom date back to an ancient time in Japan. Popular places to admire the first sunrise in Japan are high places like mountains, hills and high-rise buildings, and the beaches to watch the sun rising from the horizon.

6. Eat Osechi

Osechi is a traditional New Year’s dish in Japan since the Heian period (794–1185). The dish comprises of numbers of items and typically served in a square box. Each items of Osechi has a special meaning celebrating a New Year, for example prawns for long-life, konbu seaweed for joy and red and white kamaboko fishcake for rising sun. Osechi is originally a home-made dish, however, it takes a lot of time and effort to make, so many people buy it in modern days and they are sold ready-made in many supermarket and department stores.

7. Mochi Pounding

Eating mochi (rice cake) is a New Year custom in Japan and they are also used for a New Year’s decoration called Kagami Mochi formed with two round mochi with a daidai citrus on top. In many places, mochi pounding events are held during the New Year holiday, using steamed sticky rice placed into a wooden bucket called usu and pounded with a large wooden mallet. When you join a mochi pounding event, you’ll get to try freshly made mochi.

8. Play New Year Games and Toys

There are several fun games and toys traditionally played for Japanese New Year, such as Hanetsuki ( Japanese style badminton played with a wooden paddle), Takoage (kite flying), Karuta (Japanese playing cards with poems) and Fukuwarai (creating a face on a paper table by placing face parts such as eyes, eyebrows, nose and mouth with a blindfold). You will find some of them used for New Year’s decorations in many places during the season.

9. Send Nengajo to Your Loved Ones

Nengajo is a New Year greeting postcard traditionally send to friends and relatives, which is very similar to the Western custom of sending Christmas cards. Japanese people write Nengajo with a New Year’s wish, and typically include an illustration of Eto (animal of the year). To ensure that your Nengajo arrives on 1st of January, you should post the cars by Christmas Day as Japanese post offices tend to get super busy.

10. Get Lucky Bags

It’s the best time to hunt bargains as the biggest sale usually takes place in New Year’s season in Japan. One of the unique and special things about Japanese New Year sale is that many stores sell lucky bags called Fukubukuro. The Fukubukuro is formed with unknown items inside and with a bargain price. You may or may not get what you like, but it’s also a unique way to taste your fortune in a New Year.


Thank for reading! If you are planning a trip around New Year’s Holiday in Japan, you may wanna check out these stories listed below, too!

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