Tokyo (December 31, 2017): Millions of Japanese greeted the new year with prayers, shopping and fireworks.
Multi-coloured fireworks exploded on the horizon as camera phone flashes lit up the crowds. The party has also kicked off in Japan as revellers welcomed the New Year at the Sea Paradise Aquarium in Yokohama with an impressive fireworks display.
Thousands of people also crowded the streets of Tokyo to usher in 2018. The Japanese new year party started at 3pm GMT in the UK.
The festivities come an hour after Australia put on an extravaganza in Sydney centred on the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House.
The Japanese New Year celebration is called shogatsu, and New Year’s Day is called gantan. Just as it is in dozens of countries, January 1 is a national holiday in Japan. But here’s where the similarities between Japan and other countries drift apart. In Japan, the New Year isn’t just another holiday, it is widely considered the most important holiday.
Meiji Shrine in Tokyo, in particular, welcomes a huge wave of worshippers each year on Dec 31 and Jan 1. The gigantic shrine expects three million visitors in the first three days of the new year. Smaller neighborhood shrines throughout the country also receive a steady stream of visitors.
In Tokyo’s Shibuya district, traffic will be prohibited from entering the famous scramble crossing from 10 p.m. until 2 a.m. so that the thousands of revelers can gather in relative safety. For the past two years, police restricted pedestrian access to the intersection but the crowds have been increasing each year, causing massive traffic jams and pedestrian congestion.
Getting home won’t be a problem, at least in Tokyo. Subways and trains in the nation’s capital run throughout the night — the only night each year they do so.
Meanwhile, markets and malls across the nation have been packed with shoppers on Saturday and Sunday, looking for last-minute bargains.