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New Year's Eve, Japan

New Year's Eve (omisoka), Japan


Celebration Date
31st December
Other Name
Holiday Type
Not National Holiday


Omisoka or ōtsugomori is a Japanese traditional celebration on the last day of the year. Traditionally, it was held on the final day of the 12th lunar month. With Japan's switch to using the Gregorian calendar at the beginning of the Meiji era, December 31 (New Year's Eve) is now used for the celebration. In Japan, there are a few customs practiced on this day. Some of these customs can be enjoyed by travelers from overseas as well. Let's learn about omisoka in Japan and enjoy the end of the year even more. New Year’s Eve, Omisoka is celebrated as the beginning of a new year with new possibilities, but their celebrations are a little different.

Japanese New Year takes place on the last day of the year (December 31st). In preparation for a new year and a clean slate people purify their homes and remove last year’s clutter by cleaning from top to bottom. This is called “osoji”. They have a giant feast with friends and family with some traditional Japanese foods. Often people go out to celebrate or stay home and watch a nation-wide New Year’s talent competition until it’s time to count down to midnight. Omisoka isn’t just about having a party, it is also considered a spiritual event for many Japanese people, and at midnight they visit Shinto shrines.  


New Year’s Decoration:

The cleaning people will put out their traditional New Year’s decoration such as “shime-kazari". It is made of a sacred Shinto straw rope (shimenawa) and other materials such as ferns and white ritual paper strips ( shide). Especially popular are bitter oranges (daidai). They are considered to be a good omen as “dai-dai” can also be written with the kanji meaning from “generation to generation” and symbolizes the continuation of a family from generation to generation. Another traditional decoration is “kagami mochi” (lit.: mirror rice cake). A "shimenawa", which is a rope used in Shinto rituals, is also placed above the front door in order to welcome the Toshigami-sama. "Kagamimochi" (sweet rice cakes) are offered to the Toshigami-sama on the kamidana (a household altar for enshrining a god). If you pass by a Japanese home around the New Year, you will be able to see such shogatsu decorations



Traditionally, important activities for the concluding year and day were completed in order to start the new year fresh. Some of these include house cleaning, repaying debts, purification (such as driving out evil spirits and bad luck), and bathing so the final hours of the year could be spent relaxing. More recently, families and friends often gather for parties, including the viewing of the over four-hour Red/White Singing Battle show on NHK. This custom has its roots in the ancient Japanese culture surrounding toshigamisama or toshitokusama, which revolved around the practice of showing reverence toward the god of the current and upcoming years.

About an hour before the New Year, people often gather together for one last time in the old year to have a bowl of toshikoshi soba or toshikoshi udon together—a tradition based on people's association of eating the long noodles with "crossing over from one year to the next," which is the meaning of toshi-koshi. While the noodles are often eaten plain, or with chopped scallions, in some localities people top them with tempura. Traditionally, families make osechi on the last few days of the year. The food is then consumed during the first several days of the new year in order the 'deity of the year' to each household" and for happiness throughout the year. 


Visit a temple for Joya no Kane

There is a famous Japanese tradition called Joya no Kane, which refers to ringing the bells for 108 times in Buddhist temple. It will start at late night on 31st December and the 108th ring of the bell will strike exactly at midnight on 1st January. This tradition signifies the removal of 108 human sins, particularly the sins from the previous year.To observe this ceremony, just join in the queue with the locals at temples from as early as 10pm onwards. In Tokyo, some temples allow visitors to participate in the ringing of the bell, either complimentary or with a fee. Below are some of the temples. the new year on "omisoka" are held at shrines and temples. At shrines, an "oharai" ceremony is
held to purify all uncleanliness of the year. On the Buddhist side, the joya no kane bell is rung to remove the 108 worldly desires that mislead the soul and body. There are differences depending on the type of shrine or temple, but usually tourists can participate or watch, so we recommend stopping by a shrine or temple on omisoka night.




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