So, new year's the big thing here in Japan.
We stayed home and watched Kōhaku Uta Gassen (紅白歌合戦) on NHK: Sayuri Ishikawa, SMAP, Sachiko Kobayashi, huge kitsch dresses and a wee bit of sake with flakes of gold foil floating in it.
I pinched this outline of the show from Wikipedia and just tweaked it a bit (hey, it's new year's day; I wanna go relax with the family!):
The program divides the most popular music artists of the year into competing teams of red and white. The "red" team (akagumi) is composed of all female artists, while the "white" team (shirogumi) is all male. Last night the men's team, led by SMAP's Masahiro Nakai, somehow trounced the women's team fronted by actress Yukie Nakama.
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.
Anyway, the show finishes around 11:40 pm... then we had to watch these people banging a massive bell 108 times at a Buddhist temple (something called during Joya no Kane) to see out the old year - apparently according to Buddhist beliefs 108 is the number of passions and desires entrapping us in the cycle of suffering and reincarnation. So, the 108 bell chimes symbolize the purification from the 108 delusions and sufferings accumulated in the past year.
Happy new year, mates.