Why Japanese New Year is “Meh…”
Japan is awesome. New Year’s Eve is awesome. So it would be safe to assume that New Year’s Eve in Japan would be unbelievably crazy and fun, right?
Not so much.
In Japan, the New Year’s Eve is a time for family and spiritual cleansing.
Buddhist Temples ring their bells 108 times to cleanse the Japanese of the 108 sins–most of which involve underage girls or robots.
There is a smattering of festivals, and throwing some dried beans or whatever. But it’s cold, crowded and most people are still recovering from almost a month straight of drinking at bounenkai, “Forget-The-Year Parties”, so no one’s heart seems into it.
While the bells are ringing in Tokyo, shops have closed and most people have returned to their country-bumpkin roots.
They go back to visit the homes of their Grandparents in the snowy mountains or near a frozen rice field.
And that’s where they celebrate their New Year.
On New Year’s Eve, everyone gathers around the television to watch NHK’s annual music extravaganza, Kohaku Uta Gassen or the “Red & White Song Battle.”
It’s the Red Team, top-ranking female artists, versus the White Team, which are the top male artists past and present.
This has been the most-watched show in Japan since it began 1952, making it the Super Bowl of Japanese TV. Largely because of a captive audience trapped in their grandparent’s home with nowhere to run.
Recently however, the rankings have been dropping significantly every year. I can’t imagine why?
The next day, New Year’s Day is filled with food and money for the kids.
Kids receive an envelope of money called otshiodama and are then forced to eat very meaningful food in a large bento box called, Osechi.
The Osechi usually includes foods with different meanings, most of which are simply puns or word play for New Year’s Blessings. Seaweed, Broiled Fish Paste, Black Soybeans, Raw Shrimp, and more, all served cold in a nice wooden box.
But the most important of all is dessert, Mochi, sticky rice balls.
It used to be made by the family, but now its often store-bought. Each year hundreds of people (mostly old people) die from choking on the sticky rice treats.
If someone begins choking on mochi, all you need to do is stick a vacuum down their throat and suck it out. This is common knowledge in Japan.
Which brings us to New Year’s Postcards, Nengajo. Nearly everyone in Japan sends Nengajo to friends and family.
Unless someone has died in the previous year, in which case you are supposed to send a card of condolence. (If they choke on Mochi on New Year’s Eve it’s unclear what you do. Awkward…)
The Japanese Post guarantees to have them delivered by January 1st, as long as you post them by mid-December.
So if you have any friends in Japan, be sure to drop them a postcard next year and this guy’ll make sure they arrive on time.
And keep a vacuum handy…
Happy New Year from Japan!
What could Japan do to make its New Years more fun? Let us know in the comments!