I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that on the last night of the year everyone in Japan will be eating soba noodles. This meal is traditionally called toshikoshi soba or year-crossing soba (buckwheat noodles). And I'm not kidding when I say that I really think everyone partakes in the custom. You should see the lines outside soba restaurants and the piles of tempura bought in supermarkets.
Eating the hot or cold noodles on the last day of the year is an auspicious way to 'cross over' to the New Year. There are several stories as to why. One, is that soba noodles are easily cut which signifies cutting off all your troubles and pain from this year so that you can start the new one afresh. Another is that back in the day, the craftsmen who worked with gold would use balls of soba dough to clean up their areas. All the tiny flakes of gold would stick to the dough. It was thought then that eating soba at the end of the year would insure a nice collection of wealth for the coming year.
My mother-in-law told me the reason soba noodles are eaten is because people wish to live their life like a soba noodle:thin and long. Of course, living long means a nice long life. Living thin, however, doesn't refer to your weight but to the way you live. Living thinly means not living extravagantly or excessively. She explained to me that you (I) should live cautiously and prudently. I told her I liked the idea of living long but that instead of soba I would eat toshikoshi udon, a much thicker and well-lived noodle if you ask me.
She was not impressed. To this day she brings over expensive bundles of homemade soba to keep me upholding the tradition the correct way. Maybe I should eat toshikoshi lasagna!
Anyways, one more thing that you must remember is that it is very bad luck to eat toshikoshi soba (or udon or lasagna) on New Year's Day. You must dine on the delicacy before midnight. Or else. Now that you mention it...that's not unlike a gremlin.
He, he, he! Happy New Year! I'll post tomorrow with all the fancy foods eaten during the New Year's holidays. My mother-in-law at work again! Yum!