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TokyoTreat Japanese Snacks BlogCelebrate New Year’s the Japanese Way!

Celebrate New Year’s the Japanese Way!

Thalia HarrisThalia Harris
Published Time
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December 21, 2023
A Shimekazari New Year's wreath. Some people may use it as a decoration on a lucky bag.

Step into a world where centuries-old traditions intertwine with the vibrant pulse of a nation, as Japanese New Year, or “Oshogatsu,” beckons with its captivating tapestry of cultural richness and festive allure! From the lucky bag to amazing parties, there’s much to enjoy!

Pick up a fukubukuro, the lucky bag!

Getting into the Japanese New Year vibe, a fukubukuro is an excellent tradition where you buy unique bags filled with mystery items, all at a lower price. Fukubukuro means “lucky bag” or “mystery bag,” the fun part is you don’t know what’s inside until you open it. This mystery makes it super exciting and adds a bit of suspense to the whole cultural experience.

A fukubukuro or a lucky bag on sale.
A fukubukuro is a “lucky bag” of assorted items from stores. Image via Shutterstock

Imagine this: you buy a lucky bag, and it’s like opening a treasure chest. Inside, you might find all sorts of surprises, like clothes, accessories, or other cool stuff. It’s not just about the excitement of discovering what’s inside; this tradition is also a part of Japanese New Year celebrations, making the start of the year feel even more festive and fresh.

What makes it even better is that buying a fukubukuro is a way to support local shops. Businesses combine these bags with a mix of their products, and you get them at a good deal. It’s like a win-win situation – you have an adventure unboxing your mystery bag, and you’re helping out local stores at the same time!

Go to a shrine!

Taking part in hatsumode, the tradition of visiting a shrine for New Year’s in Japan is like diving into a cultural ritual tied to Shinto traditions. People believe that starting the year by showing respect at a shrine brings good luck and blessings. Hatsumode involves a bunch of practices focused on spiritual well-being.

The Itsukushima Shrine during hatsumode.
Hatsumode is the first shrine visit of the new year. Image via Shutterstock

During hatsumode, folks make offerings at the shrine, which is a way of showing respect and gratitude. They also say heartfelt prayers for good health and success in the upcoming year. Some people even try omikuji, fortune-telling strips you can get at the shrine to get a peek into the future!

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Attend a bonenkai!

In Japan, an excellent tradition called bonenkai happens towards the end of December. It’s a way of saying goodbye to the current year uniquely and meaningfully. “Bonenkai” literally means “forget the year”! During these get-togethers, people let go of the stress and worries they’ve gathered over the past months.

A bonenkai, or end of year party at work.
A bonenkai is an end-of-year party. Image via Shutterstock

Imagine hanging out with friends, colleagues, or social groups at a bonenkai event. There’s good food, drinks, and a laid-back vibe where everyone can chill and connect.

As the year ends, bonenkai participants join forces to unload the weight of the past. Even though it’s a casual and fun event, there’s a deep belief that everyone can step into the new year with a lighter heart and a clearer mind by acknowledging and letting go of the challenges from the past year together.

Watch Japanese TV specials after buying your lucky bag!

End-of-year Japanese TV shows are a notable part of the annual entertainment landscape. The “Kohaku Uta Gassen” music show and various New Year’s Eve specials are top-rated. This program features a singing competition between male and female artists, showcasing diverse musical genres. The program is a cultural staple, and many people look forward to watching it as part of their New Year’s Eve tradition.

The Kohaku Uta Gassen TV broadcast. Some people watch after picking up their lucky bag at the store.
There are a lot of end-of-year TV specials in December! Image via Voyapon

Apart from music shows, comedy specials, and year-end review programs are common. These shows often feature highlights and memorable moments from the past year in entertainment, sports, and news. Watching these programs provides viewers a comprehensive overview of the events and trends that shaped the year. Ultimately, the end-of-year TV shows in Japan cater to diverse interests, offering entertainment, reflection, and celebration as people transition into the new year.

Why should I try celebrating the Japanese New Year?

Celebrating Japanese New Year, known as oshogatsu is like taking a journey into Japan’s rich history and traditions that go back hundreds of years. It involves visiting unique places, making wishes, and enjoying traditional foods, which helps you understand more about Japan’s cultural heritage.

New Year's fireworks near Osaka Castle.
New Year’s in Japan is a wonderful time of year! Image via Shutterstock

During the Japanese New Year, the whole place becomes lively with decorations and community celebrations, creating a warm and friendly atmosphere. It’s a time when people focus on the good things and look forward to a fresh start, leaving behind any challenges from the past year.

In simple terms, celebrating Japanese New Year is more than just a party; it’s like stepping into a different world where you learn about traditions, meet new people, and kick off the year positively and meaningfully. Have you ever celebrated it before? Let us know in the comments below!

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Thalia Harris

Writer living in Tokyo who likes stories, music and video games. <3

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