Its hard to envision what New Years is in Japan, before you actually come here. We often say it is like Christmas in the West, but that doesn't quite cover it. The difference being that there are a lot more traditions and special events associated with New Years in Japan than there are with a Western Christmas. And New Years spans a longer period of time than Christmas does at home. Some New Years events have already been and gone and it is not unusual to carry out a New Year's tradition in February or even March. What the two do have in common is that both Christmas in the West and New Years in Japan are centered around family.
This article introduces three of the main New Year Day events and customs you can enjoy in the Greater Tokyo area, and beyond.
While some people still prefer to welcome New Year the old fashioned way of visiting a shrine or temple and participating in a New Year's ceremony, the younger generation have come more accustomed to ringing in the New Year at a countdown party. There is a great choice of Countdown parties throughout the Greater Tokyo area. You can opt for one of the mammoth celebrations such as that at Hakkejima Sea Paradise in Kanagawa or something lower key such as dancing with the staff of the Hard Rock Café in Yokohama. Countdown parties vary greatly in size, form and expense. Some events, such as the local celebration along Sumida river, are free, others cost more than a 100 dollars, such as the Makuhari Messe Countdown event in Chiba. Most are in the form of a party or live event, but you can opt for something different such as ringing in the New Year on a cruise around Tokyo bay. All of these are detailed along with others on a more extensive list with 17 popular New Year's events on my personal blog: New Year Countdown Events in the Greater Tokyo Area
Shrine and / or Temple visits
Hatsumode, the first visit to a shrine or temple in the New Year, is one of the most practiced and revered customs of New Years in Japan. As this is an age old tradition and an intricate part of Japanese New Year, you will find that every temple and shrine throughout Japan marks the New Year in some form or another. Some of the temple or shrine events are huge and attract literally thousands upon thousands of visitors. It could be for the first blessing or a particular ritual associated with the temple or shrine. New Years day is the most popular time to participate in New Year rituals at shrines and temples, but these celebrations and ancient rites carry on well into January. Meiji Shrine in Harajuku is acclaimed for having the most visitors on New Years day in all of Japan. Sensoji / Asakusa shrine had 29,100,000 over the first 3 days of New Year last year. There are smaller temples and shrines that might only have a small number of visitors, but are special to locals in someway. There is a shrine in my area of Saitama, Miyoshino Shrine, that only opens on New Year's day and no other day of the year, and as such it is a special occasion to those that live near the shrine.
The first sunrise
Getting up to see the first sunrise of the New Year is something I never thought to do before I came to Japan, but now it is one of many New Year practices I really enjoy. Of course you can enjoy a sunrise in many places all over Japan, but there are some that are more popular on New Year than others. For example, Tokyo Skytree, Tokyo Tower, Rainbow Promenade, the Telecom centre and Mt Mitake. Choshi in Chiba owns the honour of the very first place you can see the sunrise in the Kanto area of Japan. The Choshi tourist association recommends Inubosaki, along the coast, as a viewing point. My personal recommendation is Mt Takao in Hachioji in Tokyo. Not only can you clearly see the sunrise, weather permitting, a couple of minutes earlier than the rest of Tokyo, but you can also get your first glimpse of Mt Fuji for 2017. I have information with New Year's data included on my personal blog post about Mt Takao. I wrote an article on where you can see the first sunrise in the Greater Tokyo area on City-cost last year, the locations and the expected times remain the same this year: https://www.city-cost.com/blogs/Saitama/MYnxz
These are three of a multitude of traditions associated with New Years Day in Japan. Another key element of the day is of course the food, such as Osechi and Omochi. There are games and children's activities practised on the day too, such as flying a kite or playing karuta. There is the custom of giving children money called otoshidama. As the days go on there are other events you can enjoy such as the Daruma markets or Shishimai performances. Between all the events and festivities and the abundance of dry and sunny days: New Year is a lovely time of the year to be in Japan. Enjoy!