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Does Japan Celebrate Lunar New Year?

Thalia HarrisThalia Harris
Published Time
Posted on 
January 25, 2023
A Lunar New Year lion surrounded by confetti.

Japanese New Year celebrations are significant to families across the country! On January 1st, they gather to start the new year on a good note, to bring new fortune! But does Japan celebrate Lunar New Year? Where do they celebrate it? Let’s find out!  

What is the lunar calendar?

The lunar calendar is a system that organizes days according to moon cycles! While it’s perfect for tracking months, the worldwide solar or Gregorian calendar is more accurate for tracking years. Nevertheless, many countries still reference the lunar calendar for religious or cultural affairs!  

A full moon near a torii gate.
Japan used the lunar calendar in the past. Image via Shutterstock

Instead of celebrating the new year on January 1st, people celebrate the Lunar New Year in late January or early February. 2023’s Lunar New Year is on January 22nd, which officially marks the Year of the Rabbit, according to the Chinese zodiac! Celebrants worldwide will take to the streets to revel in the festivities and enjoy fantastic food and company!

People gathering around to eat a meal during the Lunar New Year.
Lunar New Year is a family reunion for many people worldwide. Image via Shutterstock

In East Asia, China, South Korea, Taiwan, and Vietnam (and their respective diasporas) celebrate the Lunar New Year! Their events and customs center around good luck and prosperity. In addition, they also take this opportunity to honor their ancestors! Also, expect lots of red, because it’s a lucky color!

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Does Japan use the lunar calendar?

Japan initially used a traditional lunar calendar from Korea by way of China. They even had unique names for the 12 months of the year! For example, the first month was Mutsuki, the “month of affection,” while the eighth month was Hazuki, the “month of (falling) leaves.” 

But during the Meiji Restoration (1868-1889), Japan adopted the Gregorian calendar to be more in line with the rest of the world! Because of this, Japan’s Lunar New Year customs mainly died out with most people!

A picture of an illumination near Osaka Castle, representing when "does Japan celebrates the new year".
Japan transitioned to the Gregorian calendar near the Meiji era. Image via Shutterstock

Despite this, remnants of Japan’s older lunar history remain! The Shin-Ochanomizu station on the Tokyo Metro Chiyoda Line has murals dedicated to the traditional months! They are gorgeous and worth looking at if you’re in town!  

In addition, Japan’s setsubun celebration is loosely related to what used to be the Lunar New Year. However, it centers more around banishing lousy luck from the previous year and welcoming it in the new spring!

Where does Japan celebrate the Lunar New Year?

As mentioned earlier, there are still remnants of lunar-related culture in Japan! The most notable places are in areas with primarily Chinese immigrant populations! In addition, people still celebrate this holiday on a smaller scale in the Ryukyu Islands, made up of Okinawa Prefecture and Kagoshima’s Amami Islands!

Ryukyu Islands

The Ryukyuan people, due to their distinctive culture borrowing elements from Japan, Korea, Southeast Asia, and especially China, are among the few groups who celebrate the Lunar New Year. They celebrate it three times a year!

The first New Year’s celebration is on January 1st, in line with the Japanese tradition. They also eat toshikoshi soba, although Okinawans eat wheat noodles served with pork rather than buckwheat soba! However, other practices, such as hatsumode and end-of-year cleaning, are still the same.

A man dressed as King Sho Nei in Okinawa, surrounded by royal escorts, in a reenactment for the New Year.
Okinawa celebrates the Japanese New Year, Lunar New Year, and the New Year of the Afterlife. Image via Shutterstock

The second New Year is on the first day of the Lunar New Year, in line with the rest of the world. These celebrations are on a smaller scale but also incorporate elements of indigenous and Chinese culture.  

Lastly, the third and final New Year’s celebration takes place on the 16th day of the Lunar New Year, or Jūrukunichi in Okinawan. This event is called gusō, which is the afterlife’s New Year. In a similar fashion to Obon on the Japanese mainland, Okinawans head to their hometowns and honor their ancestors. Their ancestral offerings include pork, kamaboko fish cakes, and tofu!

Chinatowns Across Japan

The largest foreign population in Japan comes from China, and as such, they have very prominent communities! There are three major Chinatowns across Japan; Yokohama Chukagai, Kobe Nankinmachi, and Nagasaki Shinichi Chinatown.

A shot of Yokohama Chinatown, a site that answers the question "does Japan celebrate the Lunar New Year".
Yokohama Chinatown is the largest Chinatown in Japan. Image via Shutterstock

Recently, a smaller Chinatown is also emerging in Tokyo’s Ikebukuro neighborhood. Though it’s one of the newer enclaves, they have plenty of restaurants and establishments to enjoy!

A lion dance parade performed at Kobe Chinatown during the Lunar New Year.
Kobe Chinatown has lion dances during Lunar New Year! Image via Shutterstock

Most of the larger Chinatowns hold a yearly Lunar New Year celebration with elaborate lantern festivals, parades, and fireworks! The key events are the dragon dances and excellent acrobatic performances! Not to mention, there’s plenty of food to enjoy, such as nikuman!

A picture of the gate at Nagasaki Chinatown. The gate is traditional Chinese architecture.
Nagasaki Chinatown is the oldest Chinatown in Japan.

So even though Japanese people generally don’t celebrate Lunar New Year, plenty of special celebrations are spread throughout the country! What are your plans for the next Lunar New Year? Would you like to celebrate it in Japan? Let us know in the comments below!

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