Traveling to Japan during New Year’s is a great chance to capture a rare glimpse into the modernization of traditional Japanese culture. It is a time when most Japanese people return home to partake in traditional ceremonies and festivities many of which travelers can get a chance to see and partake in themselves.
New Year’s is one of few occasions where you can see Japan a country known for its modern technological advances revert back to century old traditions. One of those traditions is Hatsumode, the first shrine visit of the New Year. Virtually every shrine across Japan will be will be filled with people coming to pray, get O-mikuji (fortunes) and buy Omamori (charms). As a tourist you can partake in all these rituals and many shrines now offer O-mikuji in English and English descriptions of the Omamori. An Omamori exists for everything, from leg pain to traffic safety, and they make great souvenirs for friends and family. This is also one of the rare chances to see men dressed in full Kimonos because it is a relatively common practice for the New Year. Those lucky enough to be traveling on the second Monday in January, can see many women dressed in their Kimonos for Coming of Age Day, a national holiday for women who have turned 20 in the past year. To celebrate they dress in extravagant Furisode Kimonos and can be seen walking the streets nearly everywhere.
The end of the year is laden with different illumination displays across Japan. Millions of glittery lights comprise beautiful structures, walkways, and scenes that make for a truly memorable experience which are only viewable at this time of year. Some popular examples from across the country include: Tokyo Midtown, known for its “Starlight Garden” which is a lawn area bathed in blue light; the world famous Kobe Luminary, which started after the Great Hanshin Awaji Earthquake displays three-dimensional structures covered in lights; the Sapporo White Illumination, featuring artwork made up of up to 420,000 bulbs; the OSAKA Hikari Renaissance, stretching 1.9 kilometers is one of Japan’s longest illumination displays; and, finally, Tokyo Tower showcases various illumination displays including a 15 meter Christmas tree, and also offers a great night view of the city. There are many other illumination displays across Japan, so be sure to check with your local tourism board to find those that fit best with your travel plans.
While in general, Japanese stores tend not to heavily discount merchandise as much in the US, once a year, just after New Year’s, prices plummet and people flock to the department stores to get the deals. Some department stores even have their clerks stand on ladders and use microphones to yell sales campaigns which can make this a truly unique experience. One of the most enjoyable parts about shopping after New Year’s is Fukubukuro, a type of mystery bag often filled with last year’s left over merchandise. To the American ear this might not sound appealing, but often these bags are filled with items with a value far greater than the cost of the bag. The price of these bags vary, but the more expensive the bag the more expensive the content. Your biggest risk is that you just plain will not like the content of the bag, otherwise buying a Fukubukuro is like entering a lottery you cannot really lose, and a great way to have fun during the New Year’s season.
Perhaps one of the most enticing reasons to go to Japan during the New Year’s season is that it is the off season which makes flights and hotels cheaper. While some restaurants and shops may close for one day during this period, don’t worry, recently more stay open the whole time, especially in the cities. It is also a time when many Japanese people travel back to their home towns, making some of the cities less crowded. So if all the unique and wonderful things to do don’t convince you that New Year’s is a great time to visit Japan, then we hope that the cheaper flights, hotels and shopping will convince you.
My advice for all of you that wont to go to celebrate New Year somewhere is to try to do it in Portugal! Lisbon is great for a Christmas time and after it but also you can go in surrounding area and try to visit some smaller places like Obidos. Here is one nice New Year experience which you can read about :
I really enjoyed New Year's in Japan last year. We tried to take in as much as we could, visiting shrines and temples at midnight, ringing the Joya no Kane, buying daruma, and watching “Kōhaku Uta Gassen" on NHK of course! We even gave the neighbor kids otoshidama, which helped us make some new friends!
Unfortunately I have not lived in Japan since 1995 and a lot may have changed since then. For example, just as many more businesses are open in the States on Thanksgiving these days than were 20 years ago, there might also be a lot more businesses open around New Years holiday in Japan now than there used to be. But then again, customs die hard in Japan so maybe nothing has changed at all.
Anyway if you are going to be there between about Dec 31st and Jan 3rd you definitely want to find out from someone who is currently living there just how dead it might be and what types of businesses might be closed during that time period. As I said in my previous post though, when I was there about the only things open during New Years week in Tokyo were convenience stores.
I wish I could be of more help but unfortunately I've lost track of all my old friends over there.
Ehmm... Can I know how many percent of shop or restaurant will be closed in tokyo!! Becasue i Scared that there wont be any activity going on........
The description of different Japanese events along with traditional culture of this important country of Asian continent is very impressive and informative effort of the talented author. Thanks a lot for such an excellent act of artistic display.
@Visit_Japan great!! arigato!!
that's western new year, not the traditional Japanese new year, the emperor and the politicians are lying to the people of Japan for centuries.
you should look into your own country, little one.
and you guys should know that japan has already given up with you.
that means you are no longer cannot expect any financial support from japan
and we are not allow you to steal our assets no more.
Tokyo around New Year's is not low season. Most hotels will be booked full and will charge premium rates. Also, places like Niseko are packed with Australian tourists looking to hit the snowy slopes. Not sure if hotel rates are indeed cheaper in other parts of Japan during this time, but I was told by friends that there is a lot of domestic travel around New Year's.
I will be heading to Tokyo tomorrow and had an awful time trying to find a decently-priced hotel with availability for my entire 5-night stay.
One of the best period if the year for be in Japan... i like it very much
Radiation ..... No way I would ever go.there again ... No reporting by the co.or gov. Something stinks ... Horrific .
You are going to visit Russia... If you go to Moscow, you'll see a cosmopolitan city like all capitals. If you go to St. Petersburg, you'll see European city with a lot of museums and palaces. But if you want to see a real Russian city, visit Velikiy Novgorod. It takes you only two hours by car from St. Peterburg or one-night trip by train from Moscow. It is the Motherland of Russia. Novgorod was founded in 859 and it is the oldest Russian city. The Kremlin, the Monument of the Millenium of Russia, St. Sopia's Cathedral, Yaroslav Court, the Ilmen Lake, an old Russian village Vitoslavlitsy, frescoes of Theophan the Greek, Yuriev monastery... All these things are unique and this list can be continued. FF members love Novgorod and know the best places in it. Of course, we'll show you the best things, tell you a lot of legends, teach you Russian dance and show how to make Russian dolls. We can't promise you vodka-party but you can choose what to try - honey mead or solyunka. You are welcome!
Visting family in Tokyo, eating Chu Toro, Soba, mochi and watching Kohaku Uta Gassen!! Tanoshi. At least my mom and I have TV Japan and can watch it while we eat our osechi-ryori here in California!
I want to experience that whole New Year's in Japan thing. Listening to the bell being run, the first shrine visit, the first sunrise of the new year.
I suppose I can understand why some people might want to visit Japan during New Year’s but when I lived there (in Tokyo) I always dreaded the arrival of another New Year’s holiday - and with good reason. Unlike in the USA where New Years Eve is the biggest party night of the year, in Japan its more like our Thanksgiving day here, only it last for nearly a week. Just imagine a week long Thanksgiving. Virtually everything is closed for the entire week except for some 24 hour convenience stores, and since all your Japanese friends will have traveled to their hometowns to visit family, basically there is nothing for you to do except sit at home alone and watch TV all day and all night. And you can forget about going out and partying all night on New Years Eve because all the clubs and bars will be closed, save a few small bars in Roppongi which are frequented by foreigners.
Anyway I eventually wised up and started traveling to nearby tropical locals like Thailand or Bali every New Year’s to escape the boredom and cold weather in Japan during that time (New Year‘s is the busiest tourist time in Thailand).
Basically Japanese New Year is great if you are Japanese but it can be a real drag if you are a foreigner. But, as the article points out, it can also be a good opportunity to see some of the more traditional aspects of Japanese society, such as seeing women in Kimonos on the Coming of Age Day. Of course if you happen to be dating a 20 year old on this day you will also quickly learn just how difficult it is to get around in a Kimono. I remember my girlfriend could only walk at a snails pace and getting up and down stairs was a real challenge even with me helping her. The Kimono itself was beautiful though, and I guess it should be considering it cost her father $15,000 (1990 prices). Also a Kimono is not that easy to get into to begin with and most women need help from someone who knows what they are doing to get it on. This is why if you should every hook-up with a kimono clad girl you met in a nightclub on Coming of Age Day you will find that she probably has a full change of clothes in her bag - no girl does the walk of shame in a Kimono.
Anyway if you choose to visit Japan during New Year’s just keep in mind that normally bustling cities like Tokyo will seem a bit like ghost towns as most businesses will be closed and most of the inhabitants are away visiting family. That is unless things have changes substantially since the 1990’s.