New Year’s Eve in Japan: The Young Continue (Very) Old Traditions

New York, N.Y. We hope that you read this article along with the 54th edition (for January 1st issue) I wrote about New Year’s Day in Japan when I went to Japan this year’s New Year. Last year I seriously injured myself by falling down from a great the height and thus could not get to Japan. I had not missed Japanese New Year before for the last year for 55 years. See: Remembering the Old Japanese New Year, Shōgatsu.

This year, what I felt particularly was that Japan’s young people were continuing Japan’s old tradition. Wherever I went, I saw young people enjoying the traditional Japanese New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day Events. On the 31st of December, restaurants were crowded with people who traditionally ate buckwheat noodles for the passing of the old year.

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I went to a restaurant where a full course with soba as the main ingredient was served. I heard that there were reservations from a week ago from every morning through the night. It was not only delicious but also ingenious and intriguing. The soba was used in every course properly, and desserts even used sthis brown noodle. Eating a full-course soba dinner on New Year’s Eve seems to be one of the trends now.

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After that, we went to a hotel of the old house of Meiji literal giant, our famous author Mori Ogai. His famous novels including Daihime, The Song of Uta, and Omokuge were written at this place and the room where he wrote “Daihime” is kept still as it was.

What we enjoyed was the makings of various New Year’s food such a rice cakes in the evening. We were allowed to eat a really delicious, freshly cooked rice cake with anko (sweet beans), and in the soup. It was delicious and reminded me of my childhood. It was amazing that there were so many young people. Four of us stayed together in the room of tatami. I went to the hot spring and fell asleep while others watched the New Year’s tradition of seventy years; program on TV, “Kohaku Utagassen.”

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I always wondered why this New Year’s program, such a boring thing, could last almost 70 years?! In Japan, where I believe food and literature as well as performing arts are the best in the world, this music program alone strikes me as boring!

However, I was scolded later when I had a dinner with Reiko Yukawa. Reiko has a broad perspective, even older than myself. She said, “There are so many good things coming out every year from this program. Talented People like the Michael Jackson and the Elvis Presley of Japan could be discovered among these singers.” “I see,” I replied politely, “but I don’t think so…” I see myself as an old woman and Japan’s New Year is really strange for me, but unique, and there is only Japan in the world that is doing programming like this.

On New Year’s Day, we got up at 4:00 am and got on the boat from Asakusa for the first Sun Rise, to be at 5am. In Japan, the Sun Rise is so important for us especially traditionally the first of the New Year!

447b6e577f3462aeb7d3c4fad5093987Hatsuhi Sunrise Hatsuhi, literally “first sun”, is the Japanese tradition
of waking up to see the first sunrise of the year on New Year’s Day.

The boat Crossed the Sumida River and went out to Tokyo Bay. One usually sees the Sun Rise from the hight, top of the mountain or tower, but this year, the plan was to look at Sun Rise from below. This was the first time for me and was a very nice experience. The first Sun Rise of the New Year, seen from Tokyo Bay was very special. We saw the Sun rising through the silhouette of dozens of cranes and skyscrapers under construction.

Unlike the glimpses you always see in nature, it was my first experience. Here too, many young people were forming a row and I thought this was great, again. Japan’s New Year’s Day is always fresh, and happy as everyone’s heart is very clear. It is always a special feeling that we can have a new life starting from this special day. We start a new life again. It is really good that such a thought come to me always at the moment of worshiping the Sun Rise of the New Year’s.

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I was also happy to see this practice has been taken up by young people, and that they feel the same freshness and are going out for Sun Rise in order to feel it. We Japanese love this. Perhaps this is why The New Year’s Red Sun, Rising Sun is on our flag.

In the U.S., the countdown on the 31st caused a fuss over drinking, and everyone on January 1 was still hangover and drunk, but Japanese young people are different. They are so spiritual. We usually go to the shrine on New Year’s Day and perform the first visit. I saw Japanese young people making the appearance of watching the first Sunrise. I hope that the tradition of how to spend New Year’s days continue forever.

Originally published as Vol. 59 in Weekly Biz, January 22, 2019; translated by Jim Luce.

See: Dr. Kazuko Hillyer Tatsumura Column in Japan’s Weekly Biz

(ニューヨークビズ!)

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About Dr. Kazuko Hillyer Tatsumura

View all posts by Dr. Kazuko Hillyer Tatsumura
Dr. Kazuko Hillyer Tatsumura
Dr. Kazuko was born into a distinguished old family in Kyoto, Japan, and graduated from Toho conservatory of Music in Tokyo. In 1961 she came to U.S. as a pianist sponsored by the Boston Symphony. She studied at Boston University, New York University, and received her Ph.D. in Oriental Medicine from New York State University and the International Academy of Education in Tokyo. From 1968 to 1992, she promoted cultural exchanges from East to West and vice versa, and became a world famous impresario, producing 2,000 events each year all over the world encompassing over 140 countries. In this connection, in 1972, she went to Dharamsala to find the lost Tibetan Folk Opera, and met His Holiness the Dalai Lama, with whom she remains a lifelong friend. In 1973 and 1991 she arranged and funded personally the tours of the Folk Opera of Tibet to the West. She has received many medals and honors from different countries. Her tireless life long work in Philanthropic field is vast and well known ranging from Save the Beacon Theater, Save the Boat People, Help the Homeless, natural disasters of earthquakes and tsunamis, as well as relief to AIDS and HIV positive children in Africa. She has been a dedicated Board Member to both the J. Luce Foundation and Orphans International for years. Her work focuses on the Tibetan people; Tibetan children remain especially strong in her heart. She raised fund for the new academic building for Manjushree Orphanage in Tawang, India and supported many aspects of the school. See HuffPo pieces entitled Japanese Holistic Healer in NYC to Build School for Tibetan Orphans in India, A Japanese Dinner with Raul Castro’s Daughter, and NYC Gala in Support of Tibetan Orphans Set for January.

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