Millions of people will visit temples and shrines in Japan on Saturday night and Sunday morning, return to their home towns to be with their families and watch the New Year variety show “Kohaku Uta Gassen” (Red and White Song Contest) on NHK as part of the annual New Year celebration.
Shrines are expected to be crowded on Saturday night and Sunday morning. Meiji Shrine in Tokyo, in particular, welcomes a huge wave of worshippers each year on Dec 31 and Jan 1. The gigantic shrine expects three million visitors in the first three days of the new year. Smaller neighborhood shrines throughout the country also receive a steady stream of visitors.
For those staying at home on New Year’s Eve, NHK’s popular variety program “Kohaku Uta Gassen” will air from 7:15 p.m. Though it has lost some of its luster in the past 10-15 years, “Kohaku” is still considered the most prestigious TV music program to be invited to appear on. Up to 35% of Japan’s TV audience is expected to watch the four-hour program, which features established 51 acts and J-pop stars. This year, the program will not feature SMAP, one of Japan’s longest-lived pop groups, who announced in late August that they would disband in December. Although NHK tried desperately to get them to bow out on “Kohaku,” the group opted instead to make their farewell on the Dec 26 final episode of their long-running variety program, “SMAP X SMAP.”
Although parties and countdown events aren’t as popular in Japan as in Western countries (think of New Year’s Eve in Japan as akin to Christmas Eve in the West), there are big events planned at some of the 5-star hotels, clubs, pubs and restaurants in the major cities.