A Happy New Year, But Who Will Win It? Reflections On the Kohaku

It is New Years Eve in the average family household in Japan, at about a quarter past seven in the evening. This can mean only one thing: it’s time for the Kohaku!

The Kohaku Uta Gassen (in its 64th year), often simply referred to as The Kohaku is the must watch TV programme at New Year, the Queen’s Speech of New Year in Japan. Ostensibly, it is the end of year music show and countdown to midnight and the new year. There will be a notable celebrity as compere – this year it was Haruko Ayase from the Taiga drama Yae no Sakura and many famous Japanese singers, oftentimes some international star. 

Of course, it isn’t just a sing-a-long and countdown to the new year, it’s also a contest, Kohaku Uta Gassen means The Red and White Singing Contest. ‘The Red Team’, the women singers compete and against The White Team, the male singers. The viewing public votes and the winning team wins the Kohaku.  This always seemed a bit redundant to me, we can’t just count the new year in with a song?

Apparently not. It is surely not enough that there are handsome men, kawaii, if slightly creepy girls singing in form of AKB48. No it isn’t enough. In the spirit of almost every a Japanese TV show that isn’t a drama, if there is a way of introducing some suspense, then embrace that way, it can only make it better.  Why have one show, a sing-a-long to bring in the new year when you can have two, a sing-a-long and a contest? Many shows on Japanese TV seem to embrace this need for suspense, even in comedy shows, where pranks are common, whether the one being pranked will notice the prank beforehand is part of the fun.

But maybe new year is not the time for such heavy analysis! So I’ll listen to Niphongo-ised Auld Lang Syne and wish you a happy new year! Akemashite omedetou!

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2 thoughts on “A Happy New Year, But Who Will Win It? Reflections On the Kohaku

  1. I’m glad I have come across your blog and can’t wait to read the other articles! I was also in Japan during New Years Eve (and have been for the past 2 years) and up on the TV was Kohaku. But we were flicking between Kohaku and ‘Waratteha ikenai’ which I find much more amusing. Japan shows some crazy things on TV that would never be shown in Australia!!

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  2. I absolutely hated it, partly because I knew none of the songs but mostly because they advertised it way too often in advance (you may say it’s fair enough since it’s their programme, but no, it isn’t), and when the show itself started, they kept referring to the shows they broadcasted this year. Advertising of Yae No Sakura was annoying enough, and they brought that into what is supposed to be programme on its own. I can’t believe we have to pay for this what is essentially their eulogy to themselves and themselves only.

    To be fair, on the other hand, I think they did their job well when it came to Kitajima Saburo. It was properly done and was a good way to end his career.

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