Japan commemorates new years according to the Chinese zodiac. Unlike in China, the Japanese New Year (“O-Shogatsu”) begins January 1 – Chinese New Year is called “Kyu-Shogatsu” (former New Year). Japanese by the millions – many dressed in colorful kimono – descend on Shinto shrines to pray for blessing in the coming year and to purchase amulets decorated for the year’s mascot.
While this may sound like a festive time to visit Japan, it’s the one time of year I advise against it, because virtually the entire nation shuts down. Hotels, gas stations and convenience stores are about the only businesses that remain open from about December 31 to January 3, as people return to their home provinces or nestle with family to enjoy seasonal foods like mochi (pounded rice cakes), oranges and osechi ryori (special New Year’s dishes).
To read more about Japanese New Year’s traditions, click here: