Celebrating the New Year in Tokyo

4 Great Ways to Bid Farewell to 2016

By Hilary Keyes
December 28, 2016
Lifestyle

Bid farewell to an exhausting 2016 and get energized for 2017 in the style that suits you best.

With all that’s been happening on the global political front and the loss of major influential figures this year, most of us will gladly bid goodbye to 2016. But while the New Year’s festivities overseas are a time for getting dressed up and hitting the town, what do people do in Japan? 

New Year’s in Japan is a lot more like a Western Christmas: family affairs with plenty of focus on togetherness, trips to a temple or shrine, seeing the first sunrise of the New Year and eating lots of home-cooked foods. Those working in Japan will probably already have noticed that they’re scheduled to work up until Dec. 29. Right around this time, the mass exodus from Tokyo starts. People in Japan typically return to their hometowns to celebrate the New Year, leaving the city pretty empty and rather uncharacteristically quiet, much like obon (festival of the dead) in the summer.

New Year’s in Japan is a lot more like a Western Christmas

And here is the main question: what are a single gal and her friends to do during this family-filled season? Well, let’s get down to business. 

1. Have a home party

Home parties have only recently become a thing in Japan — small apartments with thin walls (keep the music down) make it quite difficult to have a true extravaganza, but binge watching movies or TV together — especially New Year-related Japanese shows or the latest must-see series online — are a great way to pass the time leading up to midnight. NHK’s much loved-and-hated “Kohaku Gassen” (“Year-End Song Festival”) the concert program that runs from 7:15 pm on Dec. 31 until shortly before midnight, is a typical way most Japanese families entertain themselves on New Year’s Eve. It’s a spectacle celebrating stars that have long lost their momentum, but it’s still somehow culturally entertaining to watch — plus Pikotaro will also be there, so there’s that.

2. Visit a shrine

After having a home party with fun food, lots of TV and party games, you might want to head to a temple or shrine to ring in the New Year. Visiting a shrine or temple, or hatsumode (first shrine visit for the year), is the standard way to greet the new year and most of the famous ones see a million-plus people within a short period of time. If you don’t mind being surrounded by crowds, then the Meiji shrine in Harajuku, Zojoji near Tokyo Tower or Sensoji in Asakusa are the temples to visit.

If you’re looking for love, however, and want to cover all your bases, the following are the best shrines in the Tokyo and Kanagawa area to visit to pray for relationship luck in 2017. Other than their amazing reputations, these are also purely beautiful places to visit both on New Year’s Eve and day.

  • Imado Shrine in Asakusa is dedicated to the original deities of matchmaking and is the perfect place to start your quest.
  • Tokyo Daijingu in Iidabashi is a branch location of Mie Prefecture’s Ise Shrine, which is a popular wedding shrine and known as a love “power spot.”
  • Kanda Myoujin in Ochanomizu-Akihabara is mainly a shrine dedicated to business prosperity, but has become known as a great place to get blessings for relationships and marriage.
  • Izumo Taisha Tokyo Bunshi in Roppongi is a branch of the famous Izumo Grand Shrine located in Izumo, Shimane Prefecture and perhaps the best known love shrine in the entire country.
  • Hakone Shrine in Hakone, Kanagawa is a well-known power spot where you can find some of the most beautiful omamori (charms) in Japan made from unique mosaic patterned wood.
  • Enoshima Shrine in Enoshima, Kanagawa is where the goddess of love, Benzaiten, is enshrined and where you’ll find incredible love charms and specially designed ema, or prayer boards, too.

3. Attend a countdown event

Unlike most Western celebrations, countdowns in Japan tend to be a bit more reserved. At midnight, Tokyo Tower and Tokyo Disneyland will have outstanding fireworks displays. Another great place to see fireworks is Sunshine City in Ikebukuro’s Sunshine 60 Observatory.

At midnight, Tokyo Tower, Tokyo Disneyland, and Tokyo Bay all have outstanding fireworks displays.

If you enjoy a rowdier, slightly cheaper New Year’s Eve, then head to Shibuya’S scramble crossing, which has started having its own countdown in recent years — plus there are numerous bars, clubs and pubs in the area where you can get even more festive. Womb and Sound Museum Vision in Shibuya proper, plus Liquid Room in Ebisu are good choices, while almost everywhere you go in Shinjuku is bound to be exciting.

If you’re in the Yokohama area, then the fireworks at Akarenga Soko (Red Brick Warehouse) on the water’s edge in Minato Mirai or those held at Hakkeijima Sea Paradise are stunning. There are also a few cozy little bars and some superclubs in Yokohama and Kawasaki that have their own private countdowns, too.

4. Watch the first sunrise from Tokyo Tower

If you can’t make it to Mt. Fuji to witness hatsuhinode (first sunrise of the year), Tokyo Tower is the second best equivalent. Arrive at the Tower’s observatory by 6 am, pay ¥900 and beat the crowds for a spot to see the breathtaking first sunrise of the new year. All visitors on that day also receiving a “2017.1.1” souvenir medal and will have the chance to do their hatsumode at the very top of Tokyo Tower’s own shrine set up for the event. Expect long queues, but it’s an uplifting and unforgettable experience.

I hope everyone has fabulous, exciting and incredible New Year’s Eve celebrations, and that you get to say goodbye to 2016 in the style that best suits you. Cheers to a brighter 2017!