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New Year Traditions in Japan

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New Year (shogatsu or oshgatsu) is the most important holiday in Japan, with New Year celebrations being not so much about partying and fireworks but instead about spending time with one’s family and inviting good fortune for the year ahead. There are numerous customs and traditions that are celebrated over the New Year, all unique to Japanese culture.

Toshikoshi soba

Eating soba (Japanese noodles) before midnight on New Years Eve is one of Japan’s most popular New Year’s customs. When soba is made, the dough is stretched out and cut into long thin strips which is believed to promote a long and healthy life. Also, since soba is cut easily, it represents a wish to cut away from the misfortunes of the previous year in order to start a new year afresh.


Mochi (Japanese rice cakes) is made into a special New Year’s decoration called kagami-mochi, formed from two round mochi cakes with a tangerine placed on top. The two rice cakes represent the year being left behind and the new year ahead, and the tangerine represents the continuation of family from one generation to the next.  On 11 January, a special ritual takes place called kagami-baraki which literally translates to “opening the mirror” or “breaking the mochi” where the kagami-mochi is pulled apart by hand or hammer then typically cooked and eaten. This same tradition extends to sake, with casks being opened with a hammer and shared to celebrate the New Year.


New Years is a time of symbolic re-birth in Japan, and the viewing the first sunrise of the year, Hatsuhinode, is believed to have special supernatural powers. Crowds often gather on mountaintops or beaches to enjoy good views and pray for health and family well-being in the new year.


The first shrine visit of the year, Hatsumode, is a particularly important New Year custom in Japan where family and relatives pray together for a fortunate year ahead. It can be made at any time during the first few days of January, but it’s also common to make the pilgrimage on New Year’s Eve when the temple’s grand bell is rung repeatedly 108 times to signify the end of the old year and the coming of the new. Some of the most popular shrines and temples organise festivities featuring food vendors, omikuji (fortune telling paper strips) and omamori (lucky charms) to wish for safety, good exam results, love and wealth. In Niseko, there is even a special shrine that only opens on New Years Eve.

New Years is a wonderful time to visit Japan and get involved in the celebrations and experience the local culture of the people.

If you want to experience Japan’s stunning culture for yourself, we’d love to hear from you. Contact us here.


Spring into Niseko – Top Reasons to Book Your Ski Holiday in Spring

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We all know Niseko delivers that world-famous bottomless pow throughout winter, but the growing popularity, especially during the peak Chinese New Year period, means interest is in overdrive! Fortunately, the low seasons offer a more relaxed pace, and for the best weather and prices we recommend spring time for a getaway to Japan.

With a well-established snow base lasting months after the final snowfall of the season, on top of back to back blue-sky days (a rare event during peak winter months) there’s plenty of reason to get excited about spring skiing in Japan.


spring_park_snowboarder_nisekoAfter months of nearly non-stop powder burying the greater part of Northern Japan, it goes to reason that it doesn’t all simply disappear overnight. Unlike the spring conditions some might be used to in other countries, you’ll be well into May before any sign of earth makes itself shown beneath the slowly receding meters of snow. You might not find much use for those fat-skis, but the groomers are among the best in the world, the park is slushy and soft, and there is some stunning back country touring to be done under crisp blue skies.


niseko_spring_toursYou can enjoy skinning the local peaks, cross country skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, cat skiing, and more, without climbing into a Tuan Tuan carcass to survive the elements. Instead you can enjoy blue skies, and the stunning beauty of Hokkaido un-besmirched by a blanket of snow-laden clouds or the intense blizzards known to leave meters of snow in their wake.


Japan is within handy travel distance of neighboring Asian countries, at only 4½ hours flight time from Hong Kong to Tokyo, 7 hours from Singapore, and for residents of the southern hemisphere’s oceanic countries it is arguably the most accessible northern winter experience on offer with time zones only varying by a couple of hours. Don’t spend your winter holiday jet lagged!

A number of Low Cost Carriers also offer criminally cheap return flight deals between Australia and Japan – keep your eyes peeled and you might be lucky to snag a return flight for less than $400 AUD.

With the cash you’re saving on flights don’t forget to visit Honshu for a few days after your ski trip – the cherry blossoms are in bloom during spring and slowly work their way north making for stunning photo opportunities.


niseko_spring_accommodationWe get it; peak season snow is pretty irresistible if you’re a hard-core powder-hound, but if your first priority isn’t necessarily clipping into the fattest skis on the market and getting chest deep in bottomless powder, then the culture, food, iconic scenery, and world-class service are here to stay no matter which month of the year you land in Japan. If you can forego the powder then you’ll be in a position to really enjoy the benefits of low season travel in the form of massive discounts!

With accommodation on average 60% cheaper during spring, you’re already saving hundreds of dollars a night, and on top of that there are various Spring Sale options on offer at stunning locations such as the 4 bedroom Yutaka – perfect for families – or various studio apartments such as the elegant and modern Full Circle and Hirafu 188 located right in the heart of Grand Hirafu village which are an ideal choice for couples.

Package these accommodation discounts together with the various savings available on rental equipment and ski school lessons, and you’ll barely break a sweat opening the wallet for your next Japan winter holiday. If you’re travelling with kids they may even be eligible for FREE rentals and lessons at top vendors such as NBS – Japan’s leading snow school specialist.


Contact us today for a custom quote on a Japan Travel Package including flights, accommodation, rental & lessons, transfers, and more. See you in Japan!