As a kid, most of my New Year’s Eve memories involved having dinner (hot pot) at my grandparents home with the extended family and close friends. After dinner, the adults would drink tea (or sake) and sit around the table while talking. In the background, the TV would be blaring TV from NHK Japan: Kōhaku Uta Gassen or the Red White Song Battle (or Song Contest or Song Festival).
My family is from Taiwan, but due to the history of Japanese colonization there, my grandparents and parents learned to speak (and read/write) Japanese. So my personal New Year’s memories are a mix of Taiwanese and Japanese… with the Japanese coming from Kōhaku.
According to Wikipedia:
Kōhaku Uta Gassen, more commonly known as simply Kōhaku, is an annual music show on the New Year’s Eve produced by Japanese public broadcaster NHK and broadcast on both television and radio, nationally and internationally by NHK’s networks and some overseas (mainly cable) broadcasters which bought the program. The show ends shortly before midnight (when NHK switches to a frenzy of “Happy New Year” greetings from around the nation).
Literally “Red and White Song Battle,” the program divides the most popular music artists of the year into competing teams of red and white. The “red” team or akagumi is composed of all female artists (or groups with female vocals), while the “white” team or shirogumi is all male (or groups with male vocals). The honor of performing on Kōhaku is strictly by invitation, so only the most successful J-Pop artists and enka singers can perform. In addition to the actual music performances, the costumes, hair-styles, makeup, dancing, and lighting are also important. Even today, a performance on Kōhaku is said to be a big highlight in a singer’s career because of the show’s large reach.
While I don’t keep up with J-pop or really anything Japanese for most of the year, I always like to turn on the TV and have some Red White Song battling on to make it feel like New Year’s Eve with my family. And on the final night of 2007, I am happy to be staying in J-Town in SF with Kōhaku on the TV while waiting to meet some good friends from 8Asians for dinner.
May you ring in the New Year happily and safely!