Translated by Ray Koh
Hatsuhinode (First Sunrise of the Year) - Japanese Encyclopedia
Written by Hiromasa Uematsu
Hatsuhinode, the first sunrise of the year, is an important tradition observed by waking up at dawn to witness the first sunrise on New Year's Day. Whether you're watching from a shrine or mountaintop, this spectacular sight will set the tone for the whole year ahead!
Like many countries around the world, January 1 marks the beginning of the New Year in Japan.
The first day of the year is called Oshogatsu (New Year's) or Gantan. At this annual celebration, families gather to ring in the new year. In fact, it's the most important holiday observed in Japan.
Since the entire country is partaking in festivities at home, you won't find large-scale public events, such as the ball drop in New York's Times Square. Moreover, many businesses, from restaurants to department stores, are closed on January 1.
There is, however, a special custom of viewing the first sunrise of the year that is practiced widely in Japan.
Witness Japan's New Year a Step Ahead of Others!
The first sunrise to grace the morning of January 1 is called hatsuhinode or goraiko; these terms describe a sunrise at the summit.
According to legend, Toshigamisama, the deity of the New Year, appears during the first sunrise of the year. Watching the first sunrise is a way to welcome Toshigamisama and the new year ahead.
While gazing at the first sunrise, the Japanese pray for good fortune. Some even make New Year's resolutions and set goals to improve their health and happiness.
Unfortunately, the forest of skyscrapers in the cities tends to obstruct the views of the first sunrise.
The first sunrise seen from the peak of Mount Fuji
Therefore, many visit places like the summit of Mount Fuji or Cape Inubozaki in Chiba Prefecture to get a clear view of the first sunrise. Some facilities, such as Tokyo Skytree, extend their operating hours to accommodate hatsuhinode viewing at early dawn.
Where Does the Sun Rise First?
The International Date Line is located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Thus, the first country to witness the dawn of a new year is Kiribati.
Although the "Land of the Rising Sun" experiences it a little later, Japan is on the western side of the Pacific Ocean and ushers in the New Year considerably earlier than the rest of the world.
For example, Japan's sunrise is two hours before Thailand, nine hours earlier than England, and 14 hours preceding New York.
Ring in the New Year With the First Sunrise!
Not just limited to the first sunrise of the year, the Japanese word "hatsu" is assigned to any activity done for the first time in the New Year.
For instance, the first visit to a shrine is known as hatsumode. There's also hatsuyume or first dream, while the first laugh is coined hatsuwarai.
Wouldn't it be exciting to celebrate the New Year in another country and culture? As Japan rings in another year a step ahead of other countries, watching the first sunrise of the year in Japan may be a wonderful way to start the New Year.