New Year (Shogatsu) is a time for big celebration in Japan. Seen as a period of cleansing and renewal as well as an opportunity to welcome in the New Year, festivities tend to last from January 1-3, with many people taking this period off work.
There are various ways that you can commemorate the New Year in Kansai, from partying with friends to more intimate family celebrations. Here are a few suggestions.
While reveling the night away isn’t the big New Year’s Eve ritual in Japan that it is in places such as Europe, the US or Australia, many bars now remain open across the country to celebrate and there are a few big gatherings in the major cities. If you want to see in 2024 surrounded by a big crowd, you can head to places such as Universal Studios Osaka that puts on an annual celebration filled with fireworks, illuminations and fun for kids. Another popular place is Kobe Port, where you can join in a countdown and expect a firework display.
If you fancy something just as social but maybe a little quieter, how about a Buddhist bell-ringing ceremony (joya-no-kane)? This is an annual ritual that takes place close to midnight on New Year’s Eve. You can find this happening at many temples, with popular locations including Chion-in Temple in Kyoto and Shinnetoji Temple in Osaka.
Hatsumode is the first visit to a Shinto shrine of the year and it has become an important part of the Japanese calendar. You can expect shrines across Japan to be pretty full on New Year’s Day. Because of this, many now visit on New Year’s Eve or leave their visit until the 2nd or 3rd January (sometimes later).
The purpose of the visit is to wish for good fortune and prosperity for the coming year. Many visitors bring money or small gifts that they leave at the shrine. In recent years, some of the larger shrines now hold New Year events with stalls selling food and activities on offer.
You can visit any Shinto shrine for Hatsumode. Some of the more popular venues in Kansai are the Sumiyoshi Taisha shrine in Osaka, the Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine in Kyoto, and the Ikuta Jinja shrine in Kobe.
If you don’t fancy heading out over this period, there are plenty of ways to see in the Japanese New Year at home with friends or family. For a start, you can decorate your home in traditional Japanese style with festive trinkets. One of the most popular is Kadomatsu, which is a plant-based decoration made from bamboo stalks, pine, and a plum tree branch and traditionally is placed outside the front door of the house. Another is Shimekazari, which is a rope decoration that families hang above their doors.
Another good way to commemorate the changing of the year in Japan is with traditional meals. These include buckwheat noodles (toshikoshi soba), ozone (miso soup eaten with rice cakes) and osechi ryori (small food boxes similar to bento boxes).
If you don’t mind getting up early, perhaps you fancy experiencing hatsuhinode. This is the Japanese term for the first sunrise of the year. It is a tradition in Japan to get up – or stay up – and witness this. Indeed, you can now find hatsuhinode events at locations such as beaches and parks, involving soup, sake, music, and nice warm fires.