Kouhaku, a New Year’s Eve Tradition

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Kouhaku Uta Gassen (紅白歌合戦), often shortened to just “Kouhaku,” is an annual music show aired on NHK, Japan’s national broadcasting station, on New Year’s Eve. Kouhaku is Japan’s most popular music show. It airs on television and radio, and even on select international channels, and ends shortly before midnight. Kouhaku first started on the radio in 1951, and was only an hour long. After 1989, the show became so popular that the performers were given four hours all together to showcase their talents. Since, in Japan, New Year’s Eve is a holiday spent at home, sitting down with the family to watch Kouhaku on New Years Eve has become as much as a tradition as eating toshikoshi soba.

Kouhaku Uta Gassen is translated literally as “Red and White Song Battle.” Popular Japanese artists, ranging from pop and rock groups to traditional Japanese Enka singers, are divided into two teams: akagumi (赤組), or red team, which consists of female artists, and shirogumi (白組), or white team, which is made up of male artists. Because performing on Kouhaku is by invitation only, only the most popular and successful singing acts participate, which makes Kouhaku a great retrospective on Japanese music throughout the year.

During the show both teams have 25 acts that perform their songs over the four-hour period. At the end of the show, the audience and a panel of judges made up of notable Japanese celebrities vote for the winning team. When Kouhaku began, the audience’s vote consisted of a head-count of the audience members physically attending the show that evening, and the team with the most votes would receive the audience’s one-vote count. Recently, however, because of the popularized use of cell phones, apps and text-votes are counted alongside the venue head-count as the audience’s vote. In addition to the audience’s vote, each judge gets to cast their own vote, and the team who receives the most votes altogether wins the show.

If you’re curious about watching Kouhaku this New Year’s Eve, you can find previous year’s broadcasts for rent at Asahi. We’ll also carry the upcoming Kohaku once it becomes available in January.

Are there any Japanese New Year’s traditions that you’re planning on ringing in the New Year with?

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