Today is New Year’s Day, or gantan in Japanese. Yesterday, New Year’s Eve, or ohmisoka, is just as big a day as New Year’s Day. On the evening of the 31st, Japan’s main TV station, NHK, broadcasts Kohaku from 9pm until just before midnight: an over-the-top variety show that features the creme of the entertainers who have made it big in mainstream Japan, plus some newish talent whose appearance on the show guarantees that they will make it big.
Kohaku is an extravaganza that spans the whole gamut of mainstream entertainment in Japan, from the mediocre, maudlin, and manic, to the melodious, and even the magnificent. It is the kind of program that can only really be watched in company, preferably over dinner.
A friend and I sat around a lucky-dip stewpot, a typical dish in winter, and watched Kohaku on his massive 72” screen, and toasted each other with an extra cup of sake when the countdown to 2008 was over.
We then set out for Toyokawa Inari shrine in Tokyo's Akasaka district, the shrine visited by those connected with the arts and music. With its artistic links, it attracts big names, so the front of the shrine was thronged with young fans awaiting the appearance of any of a number of big stars.
After paying our respects at the shrine, we went across the road to the Toraya restaurant where we had one of the distinguished establishments New Year traditional sweet bean dishes. New Year is the only time of the year the trains run all night, so we caught a train back to our respective homes at about 4am this morning.