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Japan at New Year: busy and traditional

The New Year period is one of the busiest times of the year in Japan. Besides cleaning and preparing the home for the new year, everyone is rushing to send out nengajō (New Year’s greeting cards 年賀状) to family and friends. On New Year’s Day, Shinto shrines are crowded with people lining up to make their first prayers of the year.

Many Japanese people welcome the new year with traditional food served in many small dishes called osechi ryori (おせち料理). Each colorful dish signifies something such as luck, prosperity, or longevity. When we moved into a small town, we had the privilege of attending an osechi ryori cooking class at a local community center. Each dish required a great deal of time and careful attention to detail. Each time we see this food, we now appreciate the hard work that was put into making it.

Our family prefers to welcome the New Year with buckwheat noodles, the easier and more economical option. In Japan, toshikoshi soba (year-crossing noodles 年越し蕎麦) is usually eaten on New Year’s Eve. Like many families in  Japan, we have our toshikoshi soba in front of the TV. 

Every New Year’s Eve there is a special program called Kōhaku Uta Gassen (紅白歌合戦), where many of the country’s most popular artists are invited to perform on two teams—the women on the red team and the men on the white team. At the end of the show, the audience and a panel of judges vote on the best performance and the team with the most number of votes wins. This much-anticipated concert lasts the whole evening till midnight and is the most popular musical event in the year.

In Japan, there are countless New Year’s customs and practices, and, despite having been in Japan for several years, we don’t know them all. However, the most important practice our family have every New Year’s Eve is having a meal together, thanking the Lord for what he has done the past year, and looking forward in anticipation the many blessings he will bestow on us in the new year.

By Daniel and Joylyn, OMF missionaries

Will you pray for Japan?

  • Pray for new missionaries to quickly get to know Japanese traditions and customs.
  • Thank God for the all that He has done in the past year. Pray for many more blessings in the year to come.
  • Pray especially for many more Japanese this year to come to know the Lord of the years and to make their first prayers of the year to Him.


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