Valerie (also known as “Eri”) is a modern day nomad based in Tokyo, Japan. She makes her living dancing contemporary, teaching yoga, writing about her adventures, and making other people smile. When life hands her lemons, she brews up tea to sip with pinkie raised.
Latest posts by Valerie Taylor (see all)
- Best Places and Ways to Celebrate New Year’s Eve in Japan - December 29, 2017
- Tokyo’s 10 Best Spots to See Christmas Illuminations in 2017 - December 15, 2017
- Samurai, Ninja and other Martial Arts Classes to Try in Tokyo - November 27, 2017
Up until the Christmas time, Japan doesn’t really have the typical “New Year mood” in the air yet. Then suddenly, there are so many illuminations throughout the cities, that you can even forget at times that you are in Japan. Once December 26th hits – the Christmas decorations disappear, while the New Year’s decorations miraculously appear instead. Cultural ornaments hit the shelves and people start hanging up wreaths of bamboo and pine (also known as “shimenawa”), made of ropes to ward off evil spirits.
Though most people enjoy being home for the holidays, if you find yourself in Japan for the New Year’s (also called Shogatsu), you are certainly in for a treat. Here are the best events* and ways to ring in the New Year in Japan: (*please note: though most event pages provided below are published only in Japanese, that doesn’t mean that tourists aren’t welcome!).
1. Countdown Parties
Looking for a more Westernized countdown party? Japan doesn’t have a shortage of events to help bring in the New Year. Though you might find that these gatherings don’t necessarily compare to the intensity of the Times Square in NYC on NYE’s, the energy is just as electrifying. Here are some great locations for the countdown parties throughout Japan:
Hanayashiki de Toshimatagi Illumination Countdown
The event’s website is in Japanese, so here is the gist of the party: you pay 2,000-3,000 yen for a ticket and can go on as many rides as you want until the new year. There’s also live entertainment for you to enjoy. An added advantage is being able to immediately get to the Sensoji Temple from Hanayashiki Amusement Park for a religious ceremony.
Namja Countdown Party
Have you heard of Namja Town in Sunshine City, Ikebukuro? Well, it’s time to get acquainted, since they have quite a party there. You will get free ice cream and a chance to take pictures with some famous characters. It’s all good fun, especially if you have children in tow.
Tokyo Tower Countdown
This is one of the more Westernized celebrations. At midnight, the lights on the Tokyo Tower change and a date display switches over to the new year. Expect balloons and lots of cheering.
Universal Countdown Party
The Universal Studios Japan (USJ) in Osaka have a special “party pass” available for purchase, that gives you an entry to this incredible countdown. Not only do you get unlimited rides for 26 hours (from 7pm on December 31st until 9pm on January 1st), you also get access to live concerts by famous Japanese musicians and oodles of fireworks. Expect loads of confetti too.
New Year’s Countdown at Porto Europa, Wakayama
Similar to USJ’s, the New Year’s Eve bash at Porto Europa Marina City, a famous European themed park in Wakayama prefecture, has a unique party to fire you up with. A huge advantage of attending this party is that admission is completely… free. FREE. Get here by 7pm on December 31st and you can party until 2am on January 1st. Listen to local musicians then bring in the new year with fireworks.
Nagashima Spa Land, Mie
Though it’s a bit costly (around 5,000-5,500 yen for adults), the Nagashima Countdown & New Year’s Party is all the rage in the Tokai area of Japan (Mie prefecture) for a couple of reasons. First, as you can imagine, with a name like “Spa Land” there are dozens of hot springs to soak in. Next, you also get access to live concerts throughout the area and you can ring in the new year with some awesome fireworks. Furthermore, the hot springs have extended operating hours to accommodate the crowds that flock to this site.
Countdown at Huis Ten Bosch, Nagasaki
For those who don’t know, Huis Ten Bosch is a theme park in Sasebo, Nagasaki, which mimics the country of Netherlands and has a very particular Dutch style architecture. On a typical serene day there are flowers, theater attractions, rides, and museums to visit. However, when NYE rolls around, the Huis Ten Bosch turns into an enormous party. Its fireworks display is known to be one of the biggest and brightest in all of Japan.
You can also find hotels which provide countdown parties, such as ANA InterContinental Tokyo or Shangri-La Hotel in Tokyo. There are usually live Djs, drinks, and other festivities to enjoy. The downside is that it usually costs around $150-300 USD per person, and tickets are sold out within minutes. The same is true for many of the popular clubs in Roppongi and Shibuya (such as ageHA).
2. New Year’s Delicacies
Japan has wonderful food no matter where you go, but when it comes to celebrating the right way – there are special New Year’s delicacies to make your NYE as delicious and nutritious as possible. Also, try to sample these delights if you can!
Eat “Toshikoshi” Soba
On the last day of the year, many families and friends come together to enjoy a special kind of soba called “toshikoshi,” or the “year-crossing.” The reason this dish is so popular is because people are usually burned out from all the excitement at the end of the year. Thus, a simple soba bowl is seen as a way to relax and lessen up the burden that people place on themselves.
Pre-order some Osechi Ryori
By the end of November, order forms for osechi begin to appear in the supermarkets and convenience stores. Osechi is linked to the belief that cooking anything during the New Year day is unlucky and so families are used to prepare these special meals days in advance. Nowadays, since most people don’t have the ability to prepare these specialty items, you can just order them to enjoy as a New Year’s feast.
Don’t Forget Ozoni
Ozoni is historically linked to the samurai. This nutritious stew features mochi rice cakes and other vegetables, which the cook might have on hand.
Also known as “toso,” medicinal sake is usually drunk on the morning of the New Year with a traditional serving set. The sake contains an herbal component that is said to wash away ill fortunes from the previous year, plus increase longevity and health.
If you have ever seen fireworks in Japan, then you probably know that any display here is top-notch. Hence you will definitely want to see the NYE’s show! Though some places have already been noted in the previous section, here are some additional locations with fireworks that will have your jaw hitting the ground. Repeatedly.
Located at Ikoi Hiroba at Verny Park in Yokosuka, Kanagawa prefecture, the Yokosuka Countdown is an event that is well known throughout the Kanto region of Japan. People start gathering early here throughout the day. Starting on December 31st at 6pm there are live stage performances, beautiful light decorations, and then midnight fireworks (with reportedly around 400 shots being fired in 5 minutes). The event wraps up by 1am the next day.
Tokyo Disney and DisneySea
These two popular amusement parks are great places to catch amazing NYE fireworks. You are going to need to purchase tickets online in advance for these, but it’s totally worth the splurge to enjoy the show.
Also here’s a secret – if you go to Kasai Rinkai Park, you can pay a 700 yen entrance fee and get a perfect viewpoint for the fireworks from multiple points on the bay, including the Tokyo Disney resorts.
Happy Island Countdown
The Happy Island is located at Yokohama Hakkeijima Sea Paradise and it’s the ultimate New Year’s firework extravaganza. The show begins on December 31st at 7pm and supposedly doesn’t end until 8am on the next day. According to past shows, there are usually around 3,000 fireworks that go off during the celebration. At the same time, you can expect the amusement park to have their annual Christmas celebrations too, brining nonstop fun.
Japan is a non-religious country. Most Japanese consider themselves indifferent to religion, since a lot of things here are now simply a part of cultural practices rather than religious beliefs. However, even those Japanese who have little spirituality will usually partake in the Hatsumode.
Hatsumode custom includes a first visit to a Shinto shrine or a Buddhist temple on the first day of the New Year. Because it’s such a popular tradition, you can expect to see people lining up for Hatsumode on… the New Year’s Eve! During Hatsumode, shrines are alive with a festival-like feeling. Since the air is cold, people stand in line with “amazake,” a sweet and hot beverage made from fermented rice. They will then make their offering to the shrine or temple, and go on to purchase omikuji and omamori talismans.
Here are some shrines that are most popular for Hatsumode:
- Meiji Jingu – Yoyogi-koen, Harajuku, Tokyo
- Sensoji Temple – Asakusa, Tokyo
- Yasukuni Shrine – Shinjuku, Tokyo
- Hie Shrine – Akasaka, Tokyo
- Ikegami Honmonji – Ota-ku, Tokyo
- Kamoeji Temple – Hamamatsucho, Shizuoka prefecture
- Hamamatsu Hachimangu – Hamamatsucho, Shizuoka prefecture; this place is known for its amazing service
- Sumiyoshi-taisha Shrine – Osaka; this is one of the most visited shrines in the entire country
- Osaka Temmangu Shrine – Osaka
- Atsuta Shrine – Nagoya, Aichi
- Daizaifu Tenmangu Shrine – Daizaifu, Fukuoka
- Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine – Kyoto
- Ise Jingu Shrine – Ise, Mie prefecture
To the Japanese, the first sunrise of a New Year, called “Hatsunohide,” has a supernatural power. Many people take overnight trips to mountain tops and beaches to offer a prayer to the rising sun. Here are some popular places where most people gather to enjoy the sunrise on January 1st:
- Mount Takao
- Mount Mitsutoge
- Izu Peninsula
- Lake Motosu and Lake Yamanaka – both in Yamanashi prefecture, around the base of Mount Fuji
- Cape Inubo – Choshi, Chiba prefecture has one of the earliest sunrises in all of Japan
- Osanbashi Terminal – Yokohama (there’s even a steam whistle symphony at night)
Tokyo Skytree and Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building are also holding special events, but you have to be either selected by lottery or turn in an application – and that process starts months in advance.
6. Watch Kouhaku Uta Gassen
On December 31st, it isn’t surprising to hear families and friends talking about gathering around the kotatsu table to watch Kouhaku Uta Gassen. This long-running program first began in 1959 and has become a national tradition. The show is broadcast on the public NHK channel from 7:15pm to 11:45pm, and involves musical performances by the year’s most popular musicians and bands.
7. Ring Out the Old Year
There is a ritual called “Joya no Kane,” which is a popular way to ring in the new year. This is a strictly Buddhist practice where the temple bell is struck 108 times, in accordance to the 108 earthly temptations. Some temples will even allow the visitors to ring the bell once the main ritual is finished. Doing so is thought to bring good fortune.
Where to go:
- Zojoji Temple
- Sensoji Temple
- Azabusan Zenpukuji – Azabu-Juban, Minato-ku, Tokyo. Bell ringing here begins at 11:45am on December 31st and goes on into the early morning. You can even ring the bell, but there might be very long waiting lines.
- Honsenji – Samezu, Aomono-Yokocho Station, Shinagawa-ku; the omamori charms are especially popular here.
- Tenryuji – Shinjuku-sanchome, Shinjuku, Tokyo.
- Horinouchi Myohoji – Koenji, Nakano. The bell is struck until 2:00, January 1st, and you can even queue up to give it go yourself.
- Chion-In Temple – Higashiyama, Kyoto
- Ideally, anywhere you have a popular Buddhist temple, there will be some Joya no kane festivities planned.
Maybe you don’t want to do anything involving temples and shrines. Maybe you would rather spend some of your Christmas money? A lot of Japanese do. That is why so many retailers around Japan offer “fukubukuro,” or lucky bags, that contain randomly selected items for a set price. However, the price of the bag is often half the price of what is inside, meaning you save a ton of money. Hence all you need is luck!
The tradition of fukubukuro has been ongoing since the early 1900s, so you can expect big department stores like Isetan, Ginza Matsuya, Odakyu, Keio, Marui, Yamada Denki and Bic Camera to have some excellent bags on offer.
9. Oji Fox Parade
This is probably one of the most unique ways to bring in the New Year in Japan. The Oji Fox Parade takes place at Oji Inari-Jinja, close to Oji Station (Tokyo Metro Namboku Line/JR Keihin-Tohoku Line) in Kita-Ku. This festival invites kitsune fox spirits to dress up as humans and engage in dancing, festival food (even fox-themed alcohol), and parades. Face painting is also offered for free. The celebration begins at 9pm on December 31st and lasts until the New Year. This might also be a perfect place for Hatsumode!
There is so much to see and do during this holiday in Japan that you might have to come back multiple times to experience all the unique ways the Japanese ring in the new year. From special treats and recipes to spectacular fireworks and bell-ringing, Japan is a wonderful place to get into the right mood for bringing in another year. So where would you go first?