New Year (Shogatsu)
The Japanese celebrate the New Year in a big way. The official New Year falls on January 1st, however, in actuality the season itself runs from the 31st of December through the 3rd of January. Preparation for the New Year begins during the middle of December, with people preparing New Year's postcards usually purchased from the Japanese Postal Service known as nengajo. These cards are sent to business clients and aquaintances, friends, and family members. Those destined for businesses are usually printed commercially at a print shop while those sent to family and friends tend to be handmade. For people with large mailing lists, though, the trend is to have all the cards prepared commercially.
New Year's Eve is a big occasion and one of the highlights of the season. Buckwheat noodles are eaten during the day or the evening to ensure prosperity and longevity. The noodles are called toshikoshi soba (buckwheat noodles for passing the year) and are eaten at a buckwheat noodle shop ( sobaya ) or at home. Many people gather with their families on New Year's Eve to watch the Red and White Song Festival (Kohaku uta gassen) broadcast by the national television station, NHK. The Song Festival features singers whose songs enjoyed the most popularity during the past year and is almost a New Year's institution, completing its 48th broadcast in 1997. Another popular New Year's Eve program is the Record Awards show (39th broadcast in 1997). As the evening goes on, some families will make an early start for the local Shinto shrine to welcome in the New Year. Others who want to visit more famous shrines will have arrived at their destinations and will be examining the wares of the many stands set up on the walkways of the shrines.
At midnight, the Buddhist temples toll out the requisite 108 peals on their bells summoning in the New Year. T.V. stations broadcast the centers of activity at the various major shrines around the country and show the ringing of the massive temple bells at famous temples. People at the shrines get as close as they can to the main altar and cast coins and paper money at the doorsteps of the shrine. After making their offering, they clap their hands to summon the gods, then pray. At the local, less popular shrines where people can get close to the entrance, people toss their offering into the offeratory box, pull the cord attached to the bell hanging from the rafter in front of the box, then clap their hands and pray.
Relevance to Urusei Yatsura
Almost every year during it's run Urusei Yatsura feature one or sometimes two New Year's stories when January rolled around. Sometimes the gang would help ring the bells 108 times, others they would cause trouble for the Mendo family by crashing a party, or participate in a game of hanetsuki.