While the New Year’s festivities overseas are a time for getting dressed up and hitting the town, what do people do in Japan? Well, you should consider this year a special one as it is the very last of the Heisei Era before Emperor Akihito abdicates next year to mark the beginning of a brand new era in Japan.
New era or not, however, 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. 28. 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.
So if you’re in Japan at this very historical time, here are a few ways — traditional and not so — to make the experience a truly memorable one!
1. Have a countdown blast
Unlike most Western celebrations, countdowns in Japan tend to be a bit more reserved. This year, however, hotels, clubs and countless of other venues are organizing their special extravaganza versions of the “last Heisei” New Year’s celebrations, so there’ll be plenty of chances to attend one. The biggest one is around the Shibuya crossing, where like on Halloween, hundreds of people will be impromptu gathering to celebrate the beginning of 2019 together. But if you’re more into exclusive and slightly more high-end indoor events, check out The Shangri-La’s “Final Heisei Countdown Party” (pictured above), Grand Hyatt Tokyo’s Countdown Party at The Oak Door or The Peninsula Tokyo’s New Year’s Eve Dinner and “Havana Nights” Countdown Party.
For something more casual and perhaps wilder, bars, clubs and pubs in Shibuya, Shinjuku, Roppongi and the like will also be throwing memorable parties. Womb and Sound Museum Vision in Shibuya, plus Liquid Room in Ebisu are all good choices, while almost everywhere you go in Shinjuku is bound to be exciting.
2. Pray for an amazing year at 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 crazy crowds (we’re talking thousands of people), 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 2019. 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. 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 a.m., pay ¥900 and beat the crowds for a spot to see the breathtaking first sunrise (expected at 6:50 a.m.) of the new year. The first 2019 visitors on that day will also receive a “2019.1.1” 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. See more details here.
I hope everyone has fabulous, exciting and incredible New Year’s Eve celebrations, and that you get to say goodbye to 2018 in the style that best suits you. Cheers to a brighter 2019!