Translated by Ray Koh
Japanese Encyclopedia: Hatsuhinode (First Dawn)
Written by Hiromasa Uematsu
In this series, we explain some Japanese terminology that may help tourists. Hatsuhinode marks the start of the new year in Japan!
The New Year begins on January 1 in Japan.
The period surrounding January first is called oshogatsu (お正月) in Japan, where family and relatives gather in celebration for the days before, during, and after. The entire nation celebrates oshogatsu, resulting in festivals and events at shrines but very few large-scale celebrations like in countries like the United States. Most businesses, including restaurants, shops, and are closed.
On the first day of the year, a special custom of viewing the first sunrise, or "hatsuhi no de" is practiced widely in Japan.
Witness Japan's New Year, One Step Ahead of Others!
In similar fashion, the first sunrise to grace January first is called hatsuhinode (初日の出) or goraikō (ご来光, meaning "the rising sun"). It is believed that toshigamisama (歳神様, god of harvest and spirit of ancestors) arrives with hatsuhinode, and witnessing the very first sunrise is a way of welcoming both toshigamisama as well as the new year.
Gazing at hatsuhinode while praying for a good fortune for the year ahead, Japanese people make new year resolutions and hold various events. Which is all well and good, if not for the fact that these days it has become difficult to see hatsuhinode with all the tall skyscrapers around.
Hatsuhinode seen from Mount Fuji's Summit.
Due to that, people flock to popular spots such as Mount Fuji's summit and Chiba Prefecture's Inubōzaki in order to get unobstructed views of hatsuhinode. It also isn't uncommon for places like Tokyo Skytree to extend their operating hours to accommodate hatsuhinode viewing at early dawn.
The International Dateline is located right in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and the first island to witness Earth's new dawn is Kiribati. Although the land of the rising sun experiences it a little later, Japan is located on the western side of the Pacific Ocean, welcoming in the new year considerably earlier compared to the rest of the world. For example, Japan's dawn is two hours earlier than Southeast Asia's Thailand, nine hours earlier than England, and 14 hours earlier than America's New York.
The New Year and Hatsuhinode
Not just limited to January first, in Japan almost anything done the first time in the year will have the word hatsu (初, meaning "first") attached to it. For example, the first laugh in the new year is termed hatsuwarai (初笑い), and the first visit to the shrine is known as hatsumode (初詣).
How about coming to Japan to usher in the New Year, one step ahead of other countries? It will definitely be a wonderful start to 2020.