Forget the usual countdown parties, champagne toasts, and way-too-hard-to-fulfill New Year’s resolutions! If you plan to say sayonara to 2018 in Tokyo, do as the locals do. Far from western countries, Japan has its own rich cultural traditions and customs to welcome a brand new year, or called oshogatsu, the most important holiday in Japan!
Here are some ideas for you to celebrate blissful New Year’s Eve in Tokyo like nowhere else! Invite some good luck to follow you all year round as you join these traditional activities:
Typical New Year Traditions to Ring in 2019 in Tokyo:
1. New Year’s Shopping at Ameyoko (Dec 30th or 31st)
Similar to Black Friday and Boxing Day, New Year’s shopping at Ameyoko in Ueno is defo a must-do right before the end of the year! After a mere 3-minute walk from JR Ueno station, you’ll stumble on the most hectic traditional shopping street on last day of the year! It’s home to around 400 stores famed for their fresh fish of the day, fruits and vegetables, mouth-watering snacks and traditional eateries in cheaper prices. No wonder it’s brimming with people!
In this shopping street beloved by both local and tourists, don’t miss out the great finds: freshly baked Taiyaki with piping hot red-bean paste filling, cheap but plentiful Minatoya, and a shocking 10 thousand kinds of snacks and sweets in Niki no Kashi (二木の菓子), a reputed wholesale distributor of candy and snacks since 1947!
2. Eat “Year Crossing” Soba Noodles and Seasonal Food (Dec 31st)
Japan’s glorious and rich food culture is well-embedded in New Year’s Tradition too! Toshi Koshi Soba (年越しそば), which literally means “Year Crossing Soba”, is made from long soba noodles that has become a typical dish for New Year’s Eve.
The origin of the custom dates back to 800 years ago when the temples provided soba noodles to the poor at the end of the year. Now it has transformed into a tradition that brings blessings! Break the noodles with your teeth symbolizes “cut away all the bad luck of the year”, and the long thin noodles stand for longevity. That being said, you must eat up all the noodles before the stroke of midnight, for by not doing so you will bring the back luck with you to the New Year. Don’t say we didn’t remind you!
Not into slurping noodle dishes? Try osechi, a bento (box) of assorted dishes and ingredients which symbolize a certain meaning with their color, shape, and name. Each type of osechi carries a wish of long life, wealth, and purity. Cap it off with a sweet serving of ozeni, a soup with mochi rice cake that varies in flavor depending on the region where it’s made.
3. Joya no Kane: Ring Out 108 Worries of the Past Year (Dec 31st)
After your stomach filled up with soba noodles, instead of rushing to parties or to bed, go to one of many temples in Tokyo to listen to “Joya no Kane”, meaning “New Year’s Eve Bell”. The buddhist temples at around 11PM will start to ring the bell. Standing together with your loved ones and listen to the bell chime slowly and solemnly, reverberating in the cold night sky.
Bell strikes 108 times in total as it’s believed in Buddhism that there are 108 kinds of “Bonno”, a feeling similar to worries. What could be better than a spiritual cleansing to usher in the New Year?
Popular temples for Joya no Kane include Araiyahushi at Nakano, where they allow the first 108 guests who make the reservation to strike the bell, Honmonji at Ikegami that also let the crowd ring the bell for free, and Shibararejizou at Katsushika.
4. Join Local Celebrations All Around Tokyo (Dec 31st)
Although Japan is pretty quiet compared to other countries when in comes to celebrating NYE—given that most people tend to stay at home and just watch TV with their family—they’re still a couple of Western ways to end the year with a bang! Head to the iconic Shibuya Crossing, which will be especially cleared from traffic just for the public to countdown together.
Not a fan of loud noises and rowdy crowds? Opt to visit the illuminated Tokyo Tower, another go-to spot for New Year’s Eve (grab your tickets here!). When the clock strikes midnight, witness people release balloons, catch a spectrum of fireworks bursting over the cityscape, and see the lights and iconic display of the tower change. All of these mark the beginning of a brand new start.
If you insist on seeing some fireworks up close, go to Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea for a spectacular lights show. Unlike the normal day pass, you need to purchase a Special New Year’s Eve Passport to enter the park after 8:00pm on December 31 for 26 hours of non-stop partying! Hurry and book your Special Holiday tickets in advance!
5. Watch the Sunrise (Jan 1st)
The beautiful country aptly named “Japan”, which means “where the sun originates”, tells how much people value the sun. Therefore, it is not surprising that they believe the first sunrise of the year bring good energy and fortune!
Similar to Chinese New Year, the Japanese does not sleep at the last day of the year. Anticipating the coming new year, they wait to see the first ray of sunshine stretching out from horizon, filling their hearts with high hope. Thanks to the transportation that works whole night long, you can either take JR to the seaside, or go to Tokyo Tower, Tokyo City View and Sky Deck for unbeatable sunrise view. Alternatively, you can go to Mount Takao, located within an hour from downtown to welcome the dawn.
6. Make Your First Wish in the Shrine (Jan 1st to 3rd)
Here comes another essential New Year custom—hatsumode! It is a must-do activity that has surpassed the Shinto and Buddhist religions, since even locals without strong belief go to temples to pray for good New Year luck.
When you arrive at the temple, donate 5 yen in the saisen box for the best possibility of receiving good fortune, pick a omikuji to see your fortune of the year, and don’t forget to make wishes with all your heart.
Which temple should you go visit? Try Kawasaki Dashi (or called Heiken-ji) to pray with the Johnny’s, Tokyo Daijingu to ask for love, or the famed Senso-ji for dazzling New Year ornaments and bustling crowds.
7. Grab a ‘Lucky Bag’ at a Steal for the Price! （Jan 2nd)
There’s no real deep meaning to this uniquely Japanese shopping tradition, but that won’t stop us from using NYE as an excuse! Indulge in purchasing fukubukuro or “lucky bags”, filled with original goodies—some worth up to 70,000 yen!—from the participating brands. During New Year’s, they’re sold at massively discounted prices (as low as 390 yen) when the shops clear up their inventory.
Note that most of these are worth more than the purchase price as a big arigato from the designers. However, they are limited in number, so try your luck to beat the other shoppers at famous stores inside major malls, including Laforet Harajuku, Shibuya ShinQs, and UniQlo, and Muji. Celebrating the New Year in style is easier than ever in Japan.
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