Like everything else, New Year’s festivities are going to be a bit more subdued this time around in Japan due to the resurgent coronavirus pandemic.

As Japanese plan traditional New Year’s shrine visits to pray for a better year than this one, shrines and temples are adopting measures to curb COVID-19 risks. Many Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples have already removed their ladles for washing and ropes for ringing bells, with some sites turning to high-tech alternatives.

Rail operators in the Tokyo area have announced they will break with tradition and not run trains all night on New Year’s Eve through New Year’s Day, and supermarkets are planning to stay closed for longer than usual during the holidays. While there will be little change for most of Japan’s 24/7 convenience stores, Lawson will close around 85 shops during the break and allow franchise owners to do the same if they wish.

Crowds wait for the countdown near Shibuya Station on New Year's Eve last year. | KYODO
Crowds wait for the countdown near Shibuya Station on New Year’s Eve last year. | KYODO

In the new year, the government hopes to revise the law to possibly introduce penalties for businesses that don’t follow requests for temporary closures due to the pandemic, a change prefectural governors have been crying out for.

With more people staying at home over the holidays, a waning seasonal tradition is expected to get a shot in the arm this year, writes Kaori Shoji in Japan Pulse. Sending nengajō (new year cards) is as synonymous with end-of-year traditions as osechi (new year food) and NHK’s “Kohaku Uta Gassen” show on New Year’s Eve.

However, these greetings have been falling out of favor in recent years as people have increasingly opted to extend their best wishes through email or social media. This year, though, the cards are enjoying a revival, as many people unable to return home to visit loved ones seek a more thoughtful way to show they care.