All About Japan

Unique Ways New Years 2020 Was Celebrated

Tokyo Disneyland Meiji Shrine New Year's Tokyo Shibuya Akita Tohoku
Unique Ways New Years 2020 Was Celebrated

Crowds jammed Shibuya's scramble crossing as Oga's namahage monsters yelled and growled. Read on to learn how the new year was celebrated all across the nation.

New Years in Japan in steeped in traditions, but while some in Tokyo celebrated in a modern way, some in Oga, a city in Akita Prefecture, enjoyed a unique tradition that is over 200 years old.

On December 31, monster-like gods called namahage go around to houses and yell at the children there. They’re not trying to scare people – they’re trying to awaken their lazy minds so they can find happiness and good fortune. 90 locations hold the event, which is recognized by UNESCO as an intangible cultural heritage.

While in Tokyo, people flocked to Meiji Jingu shrine on January 1 for the first visit of the New Year. More than 3 million people went in 2019 between January 1 and 3. In a more modern take on the holiday, Shibuya’s Scramble Crossing was packed with people counting down to 2020 in the cold.

Tokyo Disneyland also hosted a special New Year event. 2020 is the "Year of the Rat" in the Chinese zodiac, and Disney’s most famous mouse paraded through the park in traditional Japanese clothing.

Sadly, people in Nagano in central Japan rang in the New Year while still working to recover from damage caused by Typhoon Hagibis. But how could you not admire their enduring spirit. At the Morita Shinto shrine, priests set up a small monument so that residents could make traditional New Year visits. At nearby Buddhist temple Myoshoji, patrons prayed for the area to recover. Volunteers from the city of Matsumoto were making hot soba on New Year’s Eve and all through the night to help warm up visitors.

The Imperial Palace was packed on January 2, 2020, with people hoping to get a glimpse of Emperor Naruhito at his first New Year’s greeting. Crowds gathered early in the morning, prompting officials to open the palace gates 20 minutes earlier than the scheduled 9:30 time.

The emperor appeared on the balcony just after 10 a.m. and gave his address:

“We have rung in the New Year, and I’m very happy to be celebrating with all of you. As we celebrate, let us not forget the many people who are still suffering due to the typhoons and torrential rains that struck Japan last year. I hope that this year will be a good and peaceful one, devoid of disasters. At the outset of another year, I am praying for the happiness of the Japanese people as well as all people around the world.”

69,000 visitors came to the Palace in total. Emperor Emeritus Akihito and Empress Emerita Michiko were also present. It’s the first time the former imperial couple and the current imperial couple have appeared in public together.