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Lesson Transcript

Hello, and welcome to the Culture Class: Holidays in Japan Series on JapanesePod101.com. In this series, we’re exploring the traditions behind Japanese holidays and observances. I’m Becky, and you're listening to Season 1, Lesson 25: New Year’s Eve.
New Year's Eve is the final day of the year. The last day of each month in the lunar calendar is called 晦日 (misoka) in Japanese, and since December is the last month of the year, it has a special name—大晦日 (ōmisoka). It was believed in Japan that the god 年神 (Toshigami) would visit each home, and because of this, families spent time together as the year changed from the old to the new.
Now, before we go into more detail, do you know the answer to this question: what does each home do before New Year's Eve to welcome the god Toshigami?
If you don’t already know, you’ll find out a bit later. Keep listening.
On New Year's Eve, families eat a more sumptuous meal than they normally would. Many Japanese have an image of a happy family gathered together by the stove. So instead of going out in the evening, they spend time together with the entire family to welcome the New Year. Families watch TV together and eat a special meal of year-end そば soba noodles. The sight of a mother preparing the special New Year's meal, おせち(osechi), is something that can only mean that it's New Year's Eve. As the evening advances, the family listens quietly for the sound of the New Year's Eve bells.
そば (soba) —long, thin buckwheat noodles—are eaten for good luck. People try to capitalize on this luck by eating soba along with the wish that the New Year will also be long and thin, and that they will spend it healthily. Families eat it at their evening meal and also at midnight when the date changes. Some people go out to their favorite soba restaurant, and on New Year's Eve soba restaurants do a roaring trade.
Around midnight, as the date changes from New Year's Eve to New Year's Day, the local temple’s bells ring with a loud gong noise, known as (除夜の鐘) Jyoyanokane or New Year's Bell. One of the annual events in Japanese Buddhist tradition on New Year's Eve is the hitting of the bells 108 times. Buddhists believe there are 108 negative mind states such as greed, anger, and obsession, and they ring the bell to get rid of these. Japanese people have a solemn feeling when they hear the bells ring at midnight.
Here’s our fun fact for the day! Did you know that in the evening on New Year's Eve the whole family watches special television programs? (紅白歌合戦) Kouhakuutagassen or The NHK Red and White Singing Contest is the most famous show, and people debate heavily during the New Year period about whether the red or white team will win the contest.
Now it's time to answer the quiz question: what does each home do to welcome the god 年神 (Toshigami)?
The correct answer is housecleaning. The family cleans every corner of the house before New Year’s Eve so as not to be rude to 年神 (Toshigami) when he visits the home. By cleaning all the dust and dirt that has accumulated over the previous year, the New Year can be greeted with a clean feeling. From mid-November onwards, supermarkets and household goods stores have special house-cleaning displays.
Well listeners, how was this lesson?
Did you learn something new?
In your country, what do you do on the last day of the year?
Please leave us a comment telling us at JapanesePod101.com.
Thank you for listening, everyone!