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TokyoTreat Japanese Snacks BlogNew Years Japan: Everything You Need to Know!

New Years Japan: Everything You Need to Know!

James LauJames Lau
Published Time
Posted on 
January 05, 2024
Modified Time
Updated last 
January 19, 2024
New Years Japan at Osaka Castle.

During New Years in Japan, people celebrate in many different ways! Let’s see how Japan celebrates the new year and how some of these traditions evolved over the years!

Kohaku Gassen Uta

Kohaku Uta Gassen is a popular annual singing contest in Japan that started in 1951. Hosted on New Year’s Eve, the competition has singers split into two teams: the Red (female artists) and the White Team (male artists). Only the best performers are invited, creating a musical show ranging from pop and rock to ballads. Families across Japan watch the celebration, transforming their living rooms into karaoke arenas! This makes the event a New Year’s tradition!

The ending of Kohaku Uta Gassen.
Kohaku Uta Gassen is a yearly event! Image via Chunichi Shinbun

This contest is famous for its friendly Red and White Teams competition! The show uniquely blends old and new, featuring iconic and emerging talents. Notable past performances include Yoshiki’s multi-role involvement in 2018, Babymetal’s impact in 2020, and the K-Pop wave with groups like JO1 in 2022. Watching Kohaku Uta Gassen is a great tradition that unites families as they welcome the new year!

Fukubukuro: Lucky Bags

At the end of each year in Japan, a unique tradition called fukubukuro occurs. During this time, people rush to stores to buy mystery bags containing various items. Fukubukuro combines “fuku,” meaning good luck, and “bukuro,” meaning bag. These bags are usually 50% off their original value and contain items with themes specific to the store. Moreover, these lucky bags are believed to bring good fortune, and their popularity has grown.

A shot of lucky bags, or fukubukuro, in red boxes surrounded by New Year's paraphernalia.
A fukubukuro is a mystery bag. Image via Shutterstock

Some people say fukubukuro began in the Edo era in a kimono store. Another story claims fukubukuro came from the Ginza Matsuya department store in the Meiji period. No matter where it started, fukubukuro continues today! In 2023, Mos Burger fukubukuro featured Cinnamoroll-themed items and meal vouchers. Kaldi Coffee Farm had coffee lucky bags, and Mister Donut’s three-tiered bags offered donut coupons and cute Pokemon goodies!

Sumo Wrestling in Tokyo

Sumo wrestling is a traditional sport in Japan that goes back over a thousand years. It involves two wrestlers facing off in a circular ring. The wrestlers wear only a loincloth and sandals, and before the match, they perform Shinto rituals, like throwing salt into the ring for purification.

The goal is to push or pull the opponent out of the ring and become the winner. Overall, sumo wrestlers who reach the top rank of Yokozuna are respected symbols of strength and discipline in Japan.

Two athletes in about to do sumo wrestling with a Shinto referee nearby.
Most bouts last less than 10 seconds. Image via Shutterstock

Sumo wrestling started during the Nara period as entertainment for the imperial court, evolving into a serious sport with strict training for professional tournaments. More specifically, in Tokyo, the Grand Sumo Tournaments are significant events held six times a year!

Three of these occur at the Ryogoku Kokugikan stadium, with one held at the beginning of the New Year! Additionally, each tournament lasts 15 days, and people watch closely, hoping to see a new champion rise from the crowd!

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Black Thunder

Black Thunder is a beloved chocolate candy bar in Japan and has become a favorite among people of all ages. Created by Yuraku Confectionery Inc. in 1994, this crispy and rich chocolate treat features rice puffs covered in chocolate with cocoa-coated biscuits, delivering a delightful taste experience. Its popularity also comes from a combination of affordability and great flavor, making it a go-to choice for chocolate lovers in Japan!

Someone holding a chocolate candy bar, also known as Yuraku Black Thunder.
Black Thunder is a chocolate bar with a cookie crunch! Image via Shutterstock

Not to mention, this Japanese chocolate bar sells over 100 million bars annually. The sound it makes when broken reminds people of the crack of thunder! Black Thunder offers not only the classic version but also exciting regional-exclusive flavors like Hokkaido’s White Black Thunder, Moist Depth Gateau Black Thunder, creamy Yubari Melo~ny, Elegant Hazelnut, caramelly Golden Black Thunder, and more, providing an extensive range of delicious options!

Do they celebrate Lunar New Years in Japan?

Japan celebrates its New Year on January 1st, and the Lunar New Year is not widely observed nationwide. However, the lunar calendar is generally used by some East Asian countries to mark the Lunar New Year, usually in late January or early February. The Western calendar was adopted in Japan in the Meiji Period, leading to the change in New Year. However, lunar-related traditions can be found in Chinatowns in Yokohama, Kobe, and Nagasaki.

The Yokohama Chinatown Lion Dance, one of many popular January events.
The Lion Dance is part of the Lunar New Year celebrations. Image via Shutterstock

Despite the change to the Western calendar, the Ryukyu Islands, particularly Okinawa, still preserve some lunar-related customs. The Ryukyuan people celebrate the Lunar New Year and two other New Year celebrations, adding elements of indigenous cultures. While Lunar New Year is not a nationwide celebration in Japan, areas with cultural diversity have Lunar New Year festivities, offering a unique and multicultural experience!

From the singing of Kohaku Uta Gassen, the strength and tradition in sumo wrestling, the sweet delights of Black Thunder, and the surprises hidden within fukubukuro, Japan welcomes the new year with traditional celebrations that include all ages and are exciting!

Here’s to the promise of new beginnings and the rich experiences that make New Years in Japan a grand celebration for all of us! Have you explored any of these events? Which one was your favorite? Let us know in the comments below!

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