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  • Writer's picturePhillip Radcliffe

Japanese End of Year Customs

Updated: Jan 12, 2023

(Japanese translation below)

By Kyohei Fukayama

The end of the year is December 31, and people around the world hold events on that day. Japanese people call that day "Nenmatsu" in Japanese and have a custom of doing various things before the New Year. Here are some of them.

The most famous Japanese year-end cultural event is the New Year's greeting card (nengajo). People send postcards saying "Happy New Year" to those who have helped them during the year, including relatives and business associates. Basically, one week before the end of the year, people decide whom they will write to, and if they receive a New Year's greeting card from someone they did not expect, they send one back immediately after receiving it.

However, as a matter of etiquette, one should not send a New Year's greeting card to a bereaved family member who lost a relative that year. In the unlikely event that you do send one, you will receive a postcard back called a mourning postcard.

This is not something that all Japanese look forward to, but it’s the custom to clean more carefully than usual before the New Year. Rooms that are usually only vacuumed are wiped with water and re-waxed, and some people use this time to declutter.

The year-end jumbo lottery is the last test of luck for the year and attracts a large number of people waiting in line. The lottery awards hundreds of millions of yen in prizes to a select few, but instead of giving nothing in return to those who miss the lottery, the money they pay goes to fund lottery operations as well as to support volunteers who protect the earth. Some people play the lottery out of a desire for money, while others buy the lottery solely to raise money and hope to receive a prize if they happen to win.

The "Kohaku Uta Gassen" is a historic annual year-end singing program broadcast by NHK featuring artists of a wide range of ages and genres, from those who became famous in that year to the greats who have long been and still are popular today. The audience votes on which performance is the best, and the show is divided into two groups, the red group and the white group. In this way, Japanese people cherish events that conclude the year, which have been handed down from generation to generation. These events will continue to be ingrained in Japanese culture into the future.


深山 恭平









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