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10 Ways to Celebrate the New Year in Japan

10 Ways to Celebrate the New Year in Japan

The Japanese New Year (正月/しょうがつ/Shougatsu) in Japan is a rather laid-back event stretching over a one week period. While festive parties and New Year’s countdowns are catching on, especially in bigger cities like Tokyo, Kyoto, and Kobe, the Japanese New Year still remains a time to spend with family. Keep this in mind if you plan to travel within Japan, as roads will be extremely congested and Shinkansen trains booked to full capacity. However, December 31 – January 1 is the only period in which trains run 24 hour service in major cities. Do keep in mind that the trains will be crowded during this time.

Businesses, banks, and municipal offices close from December 29 or 30 and resume operation from January 3 or 4. However, many restaurants, convenience stores, major shops, supermarkets, and department stores open during New Year’s holiday. Visit our One Day Itinerary in Odaiba over New Years for ideas.

2018 will be the Year of the Dog. Here’s 10 things you can do to celebrate the Year of the Dog in Japan.

*** 10 Ways to Celebrate the New Year in Japan ***

1. Visit a Shrine or Temple

Hatsumode (初詣/はつもうで) marks the first visit to a Shinto shrine in the new year. Some Japanese also visit temples. Typically, you visit the shrine or temple within the first week of the new year and purchase an amulet known as an 0-mamori (お守り/おまもり). Pick up an fortune or o-mikuji (おみくじ) to see what the new year has in store for you. Shrines and temples which see a large volume of foreign visitors now have English language o-mikuji available. If you’re in the Tokyo metropolitan area, Check out Meiji Shrine (Harajuku), Shinshou-ji (Narita), or Sensou-ji (Asakusa). Please keep in mind that hatsumode is a major event and popular shrines and temples see millions of visitors in the first week of the new year.

2. See the First Sunrise of the New Year

10 Ways to Celebrate the New Year in Japan

Known as hatsu hi no de (初日の出 はつひので), this is a moment to take in the beauty of nature, reflect on the previous year, and make a wish for the new year. Many people seek out the best spot so they can see “Diamond Fuji,” which is when the sun peeks over the summit of Mt. Fuji, creating a sparkling, diamond-like effect. Check the news on December 31 for the latest information on the time of sunrise. If you are in Tokyo, you can see the first sunrise from Tokyo Tower, Tokyo Sky Tree, Haneda Airport and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building.

※ According to the National Astronomical Observatory, the time of “The first sunrise of 2018” at the observatory (150 m) is scheduled at 6:48 am.

*** 10 Ways to Celebrate the New Year in Japan ***

3. See the Tokyo Philharmonic Concert

Originally established in Nagoya in 1911, the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra has the longest history and tradition of any orchestra in Japan. It is currently the largest orchestra in Japan with 166 members and regularly performs in regions outside Tokyo. They also engage in regional cultural exchange and education programs. Be mesmerized as you hear this upcoming world-class orchestra play timeless classics live at Bunkamura Orchard Hall. For information on dates and starting times, check out Tokyo Philharmonic`s official website.

4. Watch A Countdown

10 Ways to Celebrate the New Year in Japan

Again, New Year’s in Japan does not have the glitz and glamour as you’d see in the west, but in Tokyo you can join in on several countdown festivities. Check out the countdown parties at Tokyo Joyopolis (Odaiba), Tokyo City View (Roppongi), Verney Park (Yokosuka) and the zebra crossing outside Shibuya Station.

5. Hear the New Year’s Bells

If partying is not your thing, ring in the new year like a Japanese, literally. Called joyanokane (除夜の鐘/じょやのかね) , Buddhist temples ring their bells 108 times to symbolize the 108 sins of humanity. A few places to visit are Zenkufuji (Moto Azabu) from 11:45pm, Honsenji (Shinagawa) from Midnight, Kyukouzi (Shibuya) from midnight or Tsukiji Hongwanji (Tsukiji) from 11pm. You can also watch the ringing of the bells on TV after the Kouhaku singing contest on NHK.

*** 10 Ways to Celebrate the New Year in Japan ***

6. Cheer on Hakone Ekiden Runners

10 Ways to Celebrate the New Year in Japan

Hakone Ekiden is a long-distance relay race that takes place on January 2 and 3 and is run by Japanese university students. The race consists of 21  teams of 16 male runners, who each run designated portion of the race. Over two days the runners dash from Otemachi to Hakone and return to Otemachi. The race is also broadcast on Nippon Television. Japan is eagerly waiting to see if Aoyama University led by Coach Hara will take their 4th consecutive win — but be on the lookout for Tokai University to pull a surprise victory.

7. Eat O-sechi

O-sechi (おせちcomes from the tradition that you should not cook in the first days of the new year. So, women would prepare these foods as the year came to a close. Each dish in o-sechi has a special meaning associated with celebrating the new year. While some homes hold onto the custom of making o-sechi, it is common to order ready-made o-sechi from department stores, supermarkets, and even convenience stores.

It’s not too late to order o-sechi! You can still place your order for this o-sechi made for 2-3 people featuring 29 different dishes. Available on Amazon Japan – 21,600 yen.

*** 10 Ways to Celebrate the New Year in Japan ***

8. Have Fun at Tokyo Disney Resort

10 Ways to Celebrate the New Year in Japan

Why not ring in the new year at the happiest place on Earth? From January 1 to January 5, you can experience the wonderful world of Disney as Pluto, its four-legged, is celebrated in the Year of the Dog. Please note you can expect major crowds between January 1 -5. If possible, schedule your visit between January January 6 – 10.

Read up on our Disney Resort reviews of Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo Disney Sea before you go. Don’t forget our tips: Tokyo Disneyland Visiting Tips – What, Why, How and Where.

9. Eat Nanakusa Gayu

In the olden times, January 7th was the last day of the Japanese New Year. On this day, Japanese would eat nanakusa gayu (七草粥/ななくさがゆ), a rice porridge made of 7 different herbs that is believed to bring health and wellness for the rest of the year. Ingredients vary widely by region but typically you will find:

Seri/せり/Japanese Parsely
Nazuna/なずな/Shepherd’s Purse.
Gogyou/ごぎょ/Jersey Cudweed
Suzushiro/すずしろ/Japanese radish

Your local supermarket may have a nanakusa set of all 7 herbs conveniently packaged.

10. Attend the Emperor’s New Year Greeting

On January 2, Emperor Akikito will greet the public for the annual New Year’s greeting. Other members of Japan’s royal family will be in attendance as well. It is only one of 2 days of the year in which the inner gardens of the Imperial Palace are opened to the pubic. Emperor Akihito will officially abdicate the throne on April 30, 2019. He is well-loved by the Japanese people. As a result, the number of people attending his 2018 New Year greeting will no doubt be large. Check out the details and greeting times at the official website of the Imperial Household Agency.

Check out our other posts on Japanese culture:

Winter 2017-2018 Tokyo Museum Exhibits for Families

Japanese Dining Etiquette Classes (Minami Azabu) – January & February 2018

Ikebana 101 Class: Brighten Your Home with Japanese Flower Art, Jan – Apr 2018


10 Ways to Celebrate the New Year in Japan



Written By: Teni Wada – A work-at-home-mom determined to find the perfect work-life balance in the bustling city of Tokyo. Find out more about her life as a new mom in Tokyo over at her blog, babykaiju.



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