New Year’s in Japan is a quiet affair. While the holiday period is usually spent with family, enjoying traditional food and activities, there’s one particular pastime that brings the family together in a special way every winter. To indulge in this very Japanese affair, you’ll need two of the items pictured in the image above. Can you guess what they are?
The start of a new year means it’s time for hatsumōde, the year’s first visit to a Shinto shrine or Buddhist temple. You pray for good luck in the new year, throw some spare yen into the saisenbako (big offering box), get some omamori (good luck charms), and hope that the omikuji (fortune) you get is dai-kichi (great luck) and not dai-kyō (you’re screwed).
While most people are satisfied donating a few yen coins in the donation box when they visit their shrine, the Nishinomiya shrine in Hyogo Prefecture does things a little differently. They want to make sure the gods hear them loud and clear, so they lug a massive frozen maguro onto the donation box and leave it there for three days.
New Year’s Eve is done and now long gone. We’ve pretty much wrapped up our coverage of the best and worst fukubukuro in Japan, so you may be ready to move on to Valentine’s Day, but we have one more piece of awesomeness left over from December 31, 2014: explosions!
While there were plenty of great fireworks displays around the world, we think this video of the Philippines’ Manila going crazy might be the best of the year. Check out below!
Nengajo, or New Year’s greeting cards, are a ubiquitous part of the end-of-year season in Japan. Much like Christmas cards in the west, nengajo are sent to family and friends to update them on what you’ve been up to that year. In fact, there are so many nengajo sent at the end of the year that post offices in Japan have to employ students as temporary staff to make sure they meet the delivery deadline of January 1. While there are plenty of preprinted cards available from stationery shops, many people opt to make their own, personalised cards. A nice touch, but results may vary depending on the artistic skills (and sense of humour) of the postcard sender! To show you what we mean, we’ve put together a little list of the best of this year’s nengajo. Some of them are genuinely impressive, while others would make us cringe if the neighbours saw ’em!
Every New Year’s, people across Japan flock to stores for special bargains, and in particular, the “Lucky Bags” known as fukubukuro. From electronics and chocolate shops to up-scale department stores, Japanese shops and businesses of all kinds come up with original Lucky Bags at the beginning of each year to tempt those of us out for some new year’s shopping. Now, these bags are supposed to offer good value, containing products worth more than the price you pay for the bag. Well, the bags may be a good value, but the catch is that you can’t choose what you get in your bag, and each year there ends up being much online discussion on whether the Lucky Bags from different shops are a particularly good or bad deal.
Not to miss out on the action, the team at the Japanese RocketNews24 site has also joined the Lucky Bag rush, and as we’ve already started reporting, we’ve taken a look at the contents of quite a few of the bags being sold this year. And one of them happens to be a bag from none other than … Kentucky Fried Chicken Japan. Let’s see what “finger-lickin’ good” items were included in their Lucky Bag for 2015!
Meeeeh! Baaah! In Japan, it’s tradition to send friends and family New Year’s postcards called nengajo, thanking them for everything from the year before and wishing them well in the year to come. The cards often feature the animal of the new year’s zodiac; if you haven’t guessed yet, 2015 is the Year of the Sheep.
While usually sent in the mail, with the onset of the digital age, many people are turning to the non-traditional medium of social networking to deliver their nengajo. This year, some ever-creative manga artists took to Twitter to share their hand-drawn New Year’s greetings with fans around the world. Join us after the jump for a look at the best.
Well, folks, we’ve done it again. We’ve somehow survived yet another year without being wiped off the face of the planet or the interwebs, and I’m happy to report that our humble shrine to news, entertainment and general weirdness from Japan and Asia is now bigger, busier, and – dare I say it – slightly better looking than ever before.
Last year went by in a flash for us. Our team grew from 15 to 22, and we put out roughly twice the amount of content that we did in 2013. In return, we saw our readership positively explode, and now almost 190,000 of you kind souls allow our quirky news nuggets to appear alongside your friends’ tedious selfies and photos of their hideous children in your Facebook feed. It may sound like a bit of a cliché, but we really wouldn’t be here without you, and it’s only thanks to our readers that we’re able to keep on growing and can keep Mr Sato stocked with the Cuban cigars and exotic silk underwear he so voraciously consumes each day.
Despite our recent growth spurt, RocketNews24 is still staffed by a very close-knit team. Unlike some faceless media machine operated by corporate giants, we still get fuzzies when you like us and feel genuinely disappointed when you don’t. We read every single one of your comments (yes, even the long, ranting ones that make us want to double-check that the front door’s locked before heading to bed) and we take what you say to heart. We aim to make RocketNews24 a place that people like to come to for everything from commentary on recent news events and Japanese internet chatter to cooking tips and the latest from our Asian feline overlords, and it’s through your feedback that we know where and how we need to improve. So thank you. Your clicks and comments mean a lot.
Lest you worry that, what with all this back-patting and uncharacteristic seasonal cheer, we’re about to start slacking off, let me assure you that we have big plans for 2015. I won’t spoil any surprises, but I can say that we’ve already started work on a couple of projects that we think you’ll really like, and which – should the Internet gods be so kind as to shine their rays of benevolent fibre optic light on us – will soon become a regular part of RocketNews24. We’ll also be aiming to increase our output even further and will be striving to bring you not just better quality news and original content but to deliver it faster than ever before.
Once again, a genuine thank you from everyone here at RocketNews24 for all your support throughout 2014. No matter what your friends and colleagues may say behind your back, to us you are a vision of loveliness, and we don’t think you smell like turnips or wet suede shoes in the slightest.
Happy 2015! Here’s to a great Year of the Sheep!
The New Year season is often a peak shopping time in Japan, and as such stores pull out the big guns in what are known as fukubukuro (lucky bags). These are bags full of the merchandise a particular shop peddles. Sometimes it’s random which means you could end up with a laptop for fifty bucks, other times the contents are known but you can still get a decent deal on a bulk purchase. And sometimes, in the name of publicity, shops will throw in some unusual item or offer remarkably great deals to celebrate the new year.
It appears the winner for 2015 will be Keisei Department Store who are offering what must be a very large fukubukuro containing a two-meter-tall functional robot suit!
The New Year is obviously a major holiday in Japan, and that means sales at every store. In addition to discounted products, the beginning of January sees many stores also offering grab bags, most often called “lucky bags,” a direct translation of 福袋 (fukubukuro), in Japan.
Of course, some of the most sought-after lucky bags in Japan are those from Apple. In fact, if you want to grab one of Apple’s lucky bags, now might be a good time to buy a sleeping bag and some snacks, because you’ll probably be camping out over night!
The Japanese news site Gadget Tsuushin has unveiled its choices for the Anime Ryuukougo Taishou 2014, or the “Great Anime Buzzword Awards.” The winners are:
In celebration of 2015, Baskin Robbins Japan has created a special flavor inspired by sheep, this year’s animal according to the Chinese zodiac. And while it may not actually taste like lamb, it has enough imagery inspired by the woolen animal to make you say, “BAA!”
With 2014 winding down, it’s time to make plans for the new year holidays. For many people in Japan this means finding a place to watch the first sunrise of the year, or hatsu hinode; a common custom of the season.
However, many Tokyoites may be unaware that the perfect spot to view the sunrise is standing in plain view: The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. This 243-meter (797 ft) building has a pair of observation rooms which offer the greatest views in the city and is a spot popular amongst tourists, though few ever think of when it comes to New Year’s Day, assuming that because it’s a government building it would shut down for the holidays.
But ever since 1995 the building has been opening its doors to a handful of visitors, giving them the chance to take in the first sunset of the year from high above the city. Here’s how to apply for a spot on the observation deck.
The Chinese language is widely regarded as one of the most difficult languages to learn.
There are more than 80,000 Chinese characters in existence, although a non-native speaker can get by with 1,000 of the most frequently used.
To make matters more complicated, the characters that make up each word or phrase individually carry different meanings based on the context in which they’re used. For example, the Chinese character 吃 could mean “eat,” “drink,” “bear,” or “take,” depending on the phrase that surrounds it.
As hard as the language is, it can also be incredibly poetic when translated character by character into English, and sometimes hilarious.
While many people immediately think of samurai when Japan is mentioned, you might not expect to find many swordcrafters still working in the modern-day. And certainly not out in public for everyone to see!
However, the start of every year sees a gathering of swordcrafters in Gifu Prefecture where they ceremonially pound a piece of steel in a centuries old traditional ceremony. It looks cool and must be great exercise to work off all the osechi calories too!
With Christmas being just a regular day and the exchanging of gifts something of a rarity, we often feel that kids in Japan are missing out somewhat. Of course, not every Westerner is fortunate enough to know the joy of waking up on December 25 and finding presents–brought by a benevolent bearded man, no less–under the Christmas tree or at the foot of their bed, but those who are would most likely agree that it’s a pretty spectacular feeling for a kid to have.
But while the rest of the world is coming to realise that the toys they asked for aren’t quite as cool as they’d expected and dreading going back to school or work, kids in Japan are making out like bandits and getting not presents but cold, hard cash on New Year’s Day in the form of otoshidama.
It’s January 2 here in Japan, and for most major stores and savvy consumers alike, that can mean only one thing: fukubukuro! Literally meaning “lucky bag”, fukubukuro give stores a chance to bundle items together – some great, some not so great – to sell off at a massively discounted rate and make room for incoming stock. The catch? Customers have no idea what they’re buying until after they’ve handed over their cash. Usually, though, they get far more than what they pay for.
For larger companies like Apple, lucky bags are also a great opportunity to drum up a little additional publicity and get people lining up outside their stores hoping for the chance to buy one. Ever the Mac and iPhone fan, our reporter extraordinaire Mr. Sato was there to grab some swag for himself.
One of the best things about being in Japan at this time of year is the festive atmosphere that extends from Christmas all the way into the first few days of January. With so many unique traditions surrounding preparations for the New Year festival, it’s a fascinating experience but it’s also easy to feel lost when it comes to joining in with the celebrations. We’ve got a handy six-point check-list to help you with the run-down to the main event on January 1. If you want to celebrate a Japanese New Year, these are the essentials you’ll need to know.
For people in Japan, the most important event on the calendar is the New Year festival. With its focus on family and tradition, many Japanese take the first three days of the year off work to travel back to their hometowns and take part in festivities embedded in centuries of culture and meaning.
Come with us now as we take a look at some of the popular Japanese New Year traditions and reveal the spiritual symbolism and superstitions behind them.
Fukubukuro, lit. “lucky bag”, are a wonderful way for stores to shift merchandise at the start of the year, not unlike western stores’ New Year’s sales but with far more mystery and intrigue involved. Shoppers take a gamble when they purchase these gift bags as they are completely sealed and their contents unlisted, and they don’t always contain products that we desperately need, but fukubukuro usually contain items whose cash value far exceeds the bag’s asking price.
So when our reporter Kuzo heard that the fast food chain and home of 30-patty cheeseburgers Lotteria was offering up special collaborative Evangelion bags for just 2,000 yen each, he powered down his Wii U, stepped out into the sunlight and sprinted – well, sort of jogged while wheezing quietly – to his nearest store to grab one for himself.
Was it worth the US$22 purchase, or was Kuzo lumbered with a cooking-oil-scented bag of tat? Find out after the jump.
At RocketNews24, we love seeing well-known characters indulging in a bit of fun cosplaying. Last month, we showed you Hello Kitty turning herself into a Thanksgiving main dish, and it appears she’s not the only one transforming into food form. This time, Doraemon has made himself available in a mochi (rice cake) costume for the Japanese New Year, and darn it, he actually looks cute doing it! Read More