If you're going to be in Japan on New Year's, you'll want to have a uniquely Japanese experience! Here are traditional ways of spending the new year that tourists can easily experience.
Ring the Jyoya no Kane
"Jyoya no Kane" refers to the tolling of temple bells beginning before midnight on December 31st through to the early hours of January 1st. "Jyoya" means to "eliminate the previous year" and refers to the night of December 31. It is a ceremony to wipe out the "earthly desires" that delude, haunt and torment people by ringing the bells on the night that closes the year and to welcome the new year afresh. The bells are rung 108 times. This is because it is believed that people have 108 "earthly desires."
There are temples around the country where the general public can ring the bells, including Tsukiji Hongwanji and Zenpukuji in Tokyo and Kiyomizu-dera and Daikakuji in Kyoto. Check before going as some temples require tickets that are distributed in advance.
Eat Toshikoshi Soba
"Toshikoshi soba" (year-crossing noodles) are customarily eaten on New Year's Eve to bring good luck. There are various theories about its origin, such as that it is meant to "cut off the evils of the year" because soba is more easily cut than other noodles, and that it is eaten to wish for "a slim, long life" as it is food that is long and thin.
Any type of soba, including warm kakesoba and cold zarusoba is okay. However, you should be aware that it is said to be bad luck to eat it after the change of the year, so make sure to finish eating before the date change.
See the Sun Rise on New Year's Day
"Hatsuhinode" refers to the first sunrise of the year. Historically, New Year's in Japan was considered to be an event to welcome a god called Toshigamisama. It has been said that Toshigamisama appears when the sun rises on the first day of the year, and thus, the first sunrise of the year is deemed special.
The timing of the sunrise depends on the location, but is generally between 6:20 am and 7:30 am. Some spots where you can see a beautiful sunrise include Mount Takao, Ooarai Beach, Tokyo Skytree, and Roppongi Hills in Kanto, and Mount Rokko, Umeda Sky Building, Kyoto Tower, and Shirahige Shrine in Kansai.
Eat Osechi and Ozoni
Dishes called "osechi" and "ozoni" are commonly eaten during the New Year to pray for a safe year. Osechi consists of a variety of food considered to be auspicious that is packaged in jyubako (boxes with lids for putting celebratory food in that can be stacked between two and five layers). Each dish and ingredient has a meaning, such as a bountiful harvest, long life, and family prosperity. Ozoni is a soy sauce or miso based soup with mochi. The shape of the mochi, the types of ingredients, and flavoring varies greatly by family and region.
If you are visiting during the New Year, we recommend staying at hotels or ryokan inns that offer osechi or ozoni. Osechi and ozoni are also available at high-end Japanese restaurants and can be ordered online for delivery to your hotel.
A popular traditional practice for the New Year is "hatsumode." Hatsumode refers to the practice of going to a shrine or temple for the first time in the new year and incorporates the wish that "the new year is a good year." There are various theories as to when hatsumode should take place (e.g., it has to be on the first day of the year, it has to be within the first three days of the year, etc.) but today, it is generally accepted that it should be during the matsunouchi period of January 1 to 7. After saying their prayers, many people get written oracles called "omikuji" to test their luck for the year and purchase omamori amulets. Some popular spots include Meiji Jingu in Tokyo, Fushimi Inari-taisha in Kyoto, and Sumiyoshi-taisha in Osaka. Certain procedures for hatsumode should be followed, so make sure to learn them beforehand.
Click here for detailed hatsumode procedures.
These are all standard activities, but the procedures and content may differ by region. In such cases, please experience them in accordance with the culture of the region you are visiting.
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.
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