Season’s greetings. 2016 is right around the corner and It’s an exciting time of year for the Japanese like any other country in the world. I mean who doesn’t celebrate the coming new year? Today we would like to briefly introduce you some Japanese customs and rituals associated with New year’s.
忘年会と新年会 ”Bonenkai” and “Shinenkai”
Just as we enter the last month of the year, the bonenkai season begins. Bonenkai meaning “forget the year gathering” is a common social activity among the Japanese. People gather at the restaurants, bars, and clubs to look back at the ending year and feel hopes for the following year. This bonenkai is held among colleagues, neighbors and various social groups. Then when January comes, “shinenkai,” a new year’s version of a similar gathering is held. From this custom, you can tell that many Japanese love drinking sake and socializing with people!
As Shibuya being my favorite hang out spot, my recommendation for bonenkai and shinenkai is “Shibuyakun” which is located in the quieter side of Shibuya Station. A warm cozy atmosphere with good quality Japanese izakaya dishes for very reasonable price.
紅白歌合戦 ”Kōhaku Uta Gassen”
For decades, a typical way of appreciating the coming new year was to stay at home with families, and watch special TV programs together. “Kōhaku Uta Gassen” which can be translated as “The Year End Song Festival” is the most popular show which has been airing for over 60 years, and has played significant part in Japanese NYE culture. Recently, with the rise of Millennials, the rival shows have also increased its popularity. The most popular being the variety show “Zettaini Warattewa Ikenai” which is a show hosted by Japanese comedians that has original stunts and laughable situations. Although the majority of the population still watch the music program, when you focus on younger genrations, the latter variety shows have gained more fans within the last decade.
As soon as the clock strikes midnight, and the new year comes, people head to local temples and shrines for New Year’s prayer. This New Year’s shrine trip can be made at any time during the first few days of the year. People come to thank and reflect on their previous year, and pray for health and good fortune for the year ahead. The top three visited shrines for hatsumode in the Metropolitan area are as follows:
1. Meiji Shrine (Tokyo) approximately 3,100,000 people
2. Naritasan Shinshoji (Chiba) approximately 3,050,000 people
3. Kawasakidaishi Heikenji (Kanagawa) approximately 3,100,000 people
Hatsumode is deep part of Japanese tradition that when new years music festivals or other commercial events are held, an artificial Jinja like the picture below is built at the event site so that the participants that didn’t have time to go to the actual shrines can easily do new year’s prayer here.
As you may know, many businessmen in Japan are known to be workaholic, prioritizing career against their personal life. But this doesn’t mean that they don’t like to have fun. Since many companies don’t allow workers to take long vacations in the middle of the year, these hardworking businessmen aim NYE as their long waiting escape from reality. Instead of spending time at home, many who love traveling go on a long getaway trip during this holiday season even if the travel fare is super high!! Hawaii and other beach resorts are popular destinations since Japan is super cold around this time of the year.
So how long do we actually get work off during the new year’s? Generally speaking, many companies’ holiday begins on December 30th and ends on January 3rd. So minimum holiday is 5 days, but depending on that year’s calendar, if December 30th falls on a weekend or January 3rd Falls on a Friday or a Saturday, the national holiday will automatically be extended. If the dates are well numbered like in 2020 NYE, the company holiday will be total of 9 days!