ABSTRACT

Th ere are many ways to spend New Year’s Eve in Japan, from dancing the night away at a club to counting down the seconds until midnight fi reworks light up the Tokyo sky. Others may engage in time-honored rituals such as eating bowls of toshikoshi-soba (buckwheat noodles) to symbolize long life, or walking to the local temple to hear the grave resonating tone of a solitary bonshō (the bell of a Buddhist temple) that gravely resonates 108 times in observance of joya-no kane (the bell ringing out the old year). One contemporary tradition that has, since 1951, become fi rmly integrated into the cultural rituals of the ōmisoka (grand last day) of the year is watching the televised Kōhaku Uta-gassen (Th e Red and White Song Contest) [hereaft er Kōhaku ]. Widely regarded as the most important popular-music program of the year, and a national institution, Kōhaku takes place over several hours and consists of two rivaling teams-one red for women, the other white for men-vying for victory. Th e singers are invited by the public broadcaster, NHK (Nippon Hōsō Kyōkai), and represent the cream of the mainstream Japanese popular-music world in all its diversity, from elderly male soloists to youthful pop bands.