Japan greets 2nd pandemic New Year amid Hope and concern

The Yomiuri Shimbun
People watch the first sunrise of the year on Saturday morning at Cape Nosappu, the eastern-most cape in Hokkaido, known as the place to see the earliest sunrise on the main islands of Japan.

People across the nation cautiously welcomed the arrival of 2022 on Saturday, wishing for a better year amid growing fear over the spread of the omicron variant of the novel coronavirus.

This is the second New Year under the pandemic. By the end of 2021, more than 280 million cases of infection had been confirmed worldwide, and over 5 million deaths. In Japan, the number of infections remained relatively low after the fifth wave in the fall, prompting some people to resume their New Year’s rituals this year.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
People celebrate in the first moments of New Year’s Day at the Shibuya scramble crossing in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo.

Train stations were crowded with people traveling back to their hometowns at the year-end, after refraining from doing so the year before. Many shrines also stayed open throughout the night from New Year’s Eve for people to offer their prayers early on New Year’s Day, with some seeing as many visitors as the pre-pandemic New Year’s Day in 2020.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
People gather in front of Sensoji temple in Taito Ward, Tokyo, to offer New Year’s prayers on midnight Saturday.

At Meiji Jingu shrine in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo, visitors lined up from New Year’s Eve. A 19-year-old university student from Kawaguchi, Saitama Prefecture, said, “I hope normal daily life comes back in which I don’t have to wear a mask.”

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Artisans conduct a New Year’s traditional ceremony to make their first sword of the year in Seki, Gifu Prefecture, on Sunday.

A New Year’s Eve countdown event at Tokyo’s famed Shibuya scramble crossing was canceled for the second year in a row, but many people gathered there around midnight on Saturday anyway.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Residents light LED candles and pray for reconstruction at a shrine in Atami, Shizuoka Prefecture, where 26 were killed and one remains missing from a deadly mudslide last July.

On New Year’s Day last year, 3,247 new cases of infection were confirmed nationwide, with 49 deaths. This year, the number stood at 535, one-sixth of last year’s figure, with no related deaths announced. There are concerns, however, about rising community transmissions of the highly infectious omicron variant.