Notes from the Obstacle Course
Dr. Michael Peckitt

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!

Dr. Michael Gillan Peckitt is an academic who lives in Suita, Osaka Prefecture, Japan. He runs the Japan and disability related website ‘The Limping Philosopher’ ( and you can find him on Twitter @Peckitt. Check out his ebooks on Amazon.

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