Experiencing another culture's end of year celebrations is one of the most exciting and memorable ways to welcome in the New Year. While New Years is celebrated in most every country across the globe, it is one of Japan's most celebrated and important holidays. From year end noodles to first shrine visits and all the festivities in between, take a look at this guide to ringing in the year right in Japan.
In the weeks and days leading up to the New Year, one can find no shortage of spectacular illuminations all across the country. Tokyo's Midtown and Caretta Shiodome shopping centers are fantastically lit with beautiful holiday displays while Kanagawa's Sagamiko Illumination uses 6 million LED lights to create a winter wonderland complete with light and water fountain shows to delight all ages.
For more information: http://www.gotokyo.org/en/tourists/attractions/fourseasons/illumination.html
A succulent way to savor the last days of the year is with a bowl of "toshikoshi soba" or "year crossing noodle." This is a traditional soba noodle dish eaten on the last day of the year to bring longevity and prosperity to the New Year. The hot broth is the perfect for warming up before setting out for the New Year's festivities.
For more information: https://matcha-jp.com/en/707
Shrines and temples keep their gates open late to allow visitors to pay their respects and purify themselves before the year's end. Temples such as Chion-in and Kiyomizu in Kyoto ring massive bells 108 times just before midnight to symbolize the casting off of the earthly desires which trouble humans.
For more information: http://www.kiyomizudera.or.jp/en/visit/the_new_year_eve_bells/
The first sunrise of the New Year or "hatsuhinode" is believed to have special powers and many gather on beaches and mountaintops to watch the spectacular sight. Mt Takao just an hour outside of central Tokyo is an easily accessible spot to welcome the first light and if the skies are clear, you can see all the way to Mt. Fuji.
For more information: https://www.gotokyo.org/en/kanko/hachioji/event/p_takaosan.html
Once you've watched the first sunrise of the year in spectacular fashion, it's time for "hatsumode" or the first shrine visit of the New Year. Most any major shrine in the country is worth visiting on the first day of the New Year when people flock to say their prayers and women are adorned in beautiful kimonos. Be sure to read up on proper shrine etiquette and be mindful when taking pictures.
For more information: http://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/indepth/exotic/lifestyle/see.html
Food is of course an important part of celebrating New Year's. Many hotels and inns in Japan offer a taste of lavishly prepared New Year's cuisine known as "osechi ryori" for the first 3 days in January. Another must-try dish is "ozoni," a broth with rice cakes which is a quintessential part of any New Year's feast.
For more information: http://us.jnto.go.jp/blog/new-years-in-japan-2/
It's not only the first sunrise and shrine visit that Japanese people look forward to in the New Year. The first sale is also a big to-do with department stores and shops offering deep discounts and a fun holiday grab bags known as "fukubukuro" or lucky bags. These mystery bags contains an assortment of store items for one set price and usually sell out quickly due to the great value.
For more information: http://japan-magazine.jnto.go.jp/en/1411_luckybag.html
Although there is so much to see and do during New Year's, this is perhaps the most important holiday in Japan and many businesses may close from December 29th to January 3rd. It is important to check with local Tourist Information Centers and/or the attractions you plan to visit to make sure they will be open.
You can find a full list of Tourist Information Centers in Japan here: http://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/arrange/travel/guide/tic.html
Happy Holidays from Japan National Tourism Organization!
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