Ōmisoka [大晦日(おおみそか)](New Year's Eve)

Ōmisoka[大晦日(おおみそか)] refers to New Year's Eve, December 31th. Misoka[晦日] means the last day of each month and '大' usually 'means' big or 'great' but in this case, that means 'final'. Therefore, Ōmisoka is the last day of the last month, December 31th.

Ōji Shōzoku-enoki, Ōisoka no Kitsune-bi(New Year's Eve Foxfires under the Hackberry Tree at Ōji).jpg
"Ōji Shōzoku-enoki, Ōisoka no Kitsune-bi
(New Year's Eve Foxfires under the Hackberry Tree at Ōji) 
from 100 Famous Views in Edo
[江戸名所百景 - 王子装束ゑの木大晦日の狐火]" by Hiroshige Utagawa:

Hiroshige drew a legend that foxes gathered for worship at
Ōji Inari Shrine[王子稲荷] on the night of Ōmisoka(Inari is god of fox.).



Ōmisoka is one of the most important days with Shōgatsu[正月(しょうがつ)](New Year's Days) in Japan. It was believed that Shōgatsu was the time of welcoming Toshigami[年神 / 歳神(としがみ)]. Toshigami is a Shinto deity that comes to each house on Shōgatsu and brings good luck and fertility of the year. Toshigami was important for Japanese people because Japan was an agricultural country.

Japanese people stayed up on Ōmisoka and prepared to welcome Toshigami. Even now, some traces of that remain. Many Japanese clean the whole house and prepare Osechi[御節(おせち)](Osechi are traditional dishes eaten in Shōgatsu.) by Ōmisoka. The companies generally set the holidays from December 29th to January 3rd some return to their parents' house and many Japanese stay with family at home on Ōmisoka.

Osechi
Osechi



On Ōmisoka, there is a custom of eating Soba[蕎麦(そば)](Soba eaten on that day is called 'Toshikoshi-soba[年越し(としこし)蕎麦]'.). There are various theories on the reason for eating Toshikoshi-soba. As one theory, Soba noodle breaks easily and that has come to be eaten by associating that with breaking the evil spirits of the year. In another theory, Soba noodle is long and that is associated with long life and that has come to be eaten to pray for one's longevity.

Kake-soba
Hot Soba



In Buddhist temples, a bell is rung at 108 times from the late night of Ōmisoka to the beginning of New Year's Day, January 1st(New Year's day is called 'Ganjitsu[元日(がんじつ)]' and that is a national holiday). This ceremony is called 'Jyoya no Kane[除夜の鐘(じょやのかね)]'. In Buddhism, it is thought that a human being has 108 evil desires and Jyoya no Kane is rung because of removing them.


Joya no Kane at Zenkō-ji Temple, Nagano CityVideo by beaphoto1

Bell of Shimōsa-kokubun-ji Temple
Bell of Shimōsa-kokubun-ji Temple in Ichikawa City, Chiba Prefecture


In Japan, various special programs are broadcasted on TV at the end of the year. Above all, Kōhaku Uta Gassen[紅白歌合戦(こうはくうたがっせん)], which is broadcasted by NHK on the night of Ōmisoka, is the most famous TV program among them. Kōhaku Uta Gassen is a song battle show that the two teams, white team(men) and red team(women) compete.





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