Japan more or less shuts down for the first few days of the New Year. Most businesses are closed and people tend to stay home and take it easy.
It's traditional to visit a shrine or temple in the first few days of the year here to pray for happiness or whatever it is you hope for in the coming year. Most people still do that, so the temples and shrines get very crowded around this time. Tonight, New Year's Eve, is the busiest night of the year for most temples and shrines. Thousands of people will be lining up at some of the temples, waiting to get in their prayer first thing in 2009. It's considered a fun thing to do, and for a lot of people it'll be the only time they'll visit a temple all year.
Another tradition is to eat traditional food called "osechi-ryori" during the first few days of the New Year. Osechi-ryori is only eaten around this time of the year and the shops usually don't sell it any other time. My wife went to the supermarket earlier today to buy an "osechi set", but they were all sold out. So it's no osechi-ryori for us this time.
The traditional food for New Year's Eve is "toshi-koshi soba". "Toshi" means "year", "koshi" means something like "cross over" and soba are buckwheat noodles. My English translation is "year-crossing noodles", although that web site link translates it as "end the old year and enter the new year soba noodles". As you can guess from that name, Japanese people eat them on New Years Eve to mark the end of the old year and the start of a new one. They're also made longer than normal noodles to signify leading a long life. We managed to pick up some of those today, so we'll be having "year-crossing noodles" and tempura tonight.
The other thing I'm hoping to do later is some "year-crossing zazen". I'll probably start around 11.40 and continue to around twenty past midnight.
One other thing that happens over here on New Year's Eve is the temples all ring their bells 108 times around midnight. Usually we can hear the bells from our house.
Hope you have a good New Year's Eve wherever you are, and thanks for reading my little blog.