The end of the year
* Update: The popularity of Kohaku has been dropping in the past several years. Asahi News reports that this year, it fell below 40% for the first time (39.3% to be exact).
Instead of watching TV at home, my partner and I went to our local bathhouse (sento around ten pm. Although sento began to decline in popularity in the 1970s as the demographic shifted to nuclear families with their own bathtubs, they have staged somewhat of a comeback in the last decade. Renamed Super-Sento or Kenko-lands they now feature jacuzzis, hot/dry/mist saunas, salt rubs, herbal tea baths, and hot spring baths. You can arrange to get your hair cut or an oil massage too.
In Japan, cleanliness is literally a religion. A large part of Shinto is dedicated to physical and spiritual cleaning. My favorite documentary photograph is Tomoko being bathed by her mother taken by Eugene Smith. It reminds many people of the Pieta but its setting in the bath has Japanese spiritual connotations as well. The water is washing away not only the pollution that poisoned Tomoko, but also the sense of guilt of her mother towards her daughter. There's some controversy over the withdrawal of the print from circulation.
At the sento, I spent most of the time in the outdoor hot spring (露天風呂 rotenburo) soaking away the stress and spiritual and physical dirt of the old year while gazing up at the night sky. What could be better? We spent about three hours at the sento and walked back home around 1 am. In the distance we could hear the bell at the local Buddhist temple bell slowly toll 108 times (除夜の鐘; joya no kane) representing the 108 desires of humans.
This year is the 17th year of the Heisei era of Emperor Akihito. It is the Year of Cock (酉).