(Shōgatsu). New Year observances are the most important and most elaborate of Japan's annual events. Althought local customs differ, at this time homes are decorated and the holidays are celebrated by family gatherings, visits to shrines or temples, and formal calls on relatives and friends. In recent years the New Year festivities have been officially observed from January 1 through January 3, during which time all government offices and most companies are closed. The night before New Year's, many people visit Buddhist temples to hear the temple bells rung 108 times at midnight to dispel the evils of the past year. It is also customary to eat toshikoshi soba (literally, "year-crossing noodles") in the hope that one's family fortunes will extend like the long noodles. (adapted from Japan: An Illustrated Encyclopedia. Tokyo: Kodansha, 1993)
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