While a romantic Christmas is celebrated all over Tokyo, New Year’s night here is much calmer. Although in the past few years there are more and more things happening in the city on this night. Here are just a few examples of the things you can do.
One of the things you can do is join a New Year countdown. The famous countdown in Shibuya is canceled. But there are plenty of parties where you can still do enjoy the moment. For example, a big fun party is expected to happen at the popular club in Shibuya, Womb. Or if you feel extra fancy head to the Park Hyatt hotel in Shinjuku. At the lounge located on the 41st floor (meaning great views), you will be able to enjoy cocktails, champagne, and great music.
Right after the countdown, you can make your first visit to the shrine in the new year. In Japanese, this tradition is known as “Hatsumode”. Even though you can go to any shrine you want, we recommend joining the crowd at Meiji Jingu or Zozoji temple nearby the Tokyo Tower. Yes, it will be crowded but it also has a special sense of unity with others.
The first sunrise of the year or “Hatsuhinode” is another important tradition many Japanese like to keep. And you can join them too. The best spots to watch a sunrise in Tokyo are Miura beach, Kasai Rinkai park, Tokyo Tower, and Roppongi Hills (the last two require advanced reservations).
Toshi-Koshi Soba and Osechi
There are several types of food typically eaten during the last and the first days of the new year. Toshi-Koshi soba, literally “year-crossing soba” is eaten on New Year’s eve. There are several explanations for this custom but the most common is that soba symbolizes long life. During the last week of the year, popular soba restaurants get huge lines in front of them.
A tradition to eat osechi began in Heian period (794-1185). Osechi is composed of several small dished and each of them has a special meaning. For instance, kazunoko (herring roe) symbolizes a wish to have a number of kids in a new year. Kuromame (black beans) symbolize good health in the new year, etc. It is eaten during the first few days of the new year because in the past it was prohibited for a woman to work or cook during these days. Osechi used to be all homemade. However, nowadays you can preorder it from many department shops and even convenience stores. It is definitely something worth trying in order to become more familiar with Japanese traditions.
Lucky bags, or fukubukuro in Japanese, is another tradition you can be a pst of. Different shops fill the bags with whatever items they have and sell these bags for slightly cheaper prices than they would normally cost at the shop. However, you do not know what is inside the bag, and if it is clothing you do not know the size. This is why it is called “lucky bags”, sometimes you get lucky, sometimes not so much. Many shops offer preorders on their fukubukuro bags. Or you can head to one of the big malls during the first days of the year and try to grab one there.
Mochitsuki, making a Japanese rice cake, is another tradition that has been around for many many years. In present days during the first days of the new year, you will be able to attend mochitsuki festivals at various locations, such as shrines or community centers. You can watch how professional mochi makers make those cakes very fast or you can try and make them yourself. Usually, along with the mochi-making process, there are also other activities available, such as music performances.
Last but not least, on the first day of the new year, you can visit Disneyland and enjoy special performances, decorations, and food. Make sure not to miss the new year’s parade where Mickey and other Disney characters will welcome the visitors in traditional Japanese clothes.
New Year in Japan is mainly a family holiday. But in recent years tourists, foreign residents, and even some young Japanese people want to celebrate this night with friends in a fun lively atmosphere. Luckily Tokyo has some options, so be sure to plan your parties and celebrations in advance.