Celebrating New Year in Japan is all about ‘firsts’. Perhaps the most important ‘first’ is the first trip to a shrine, a tradition called hatsumode. While this can be done at any time, usually over the first three days of the year, the most dramatic time will be at midnight of December 31, when crowds will gather to hear parishioners ring the temple bells and pray. As well as religious activities, there are many other non-secular events in Tokyo at the turn of the year, and below is Japan Info Swap’s pick of the bunch.
As one of the top three shrines in Japan Meiji is the most famous shrine to visit for Hatsumode, and will attract over 3.1 million people over the first three days of the year. In recent times it has been considered a power spot, from where pilgrims can draw power for the coming year.
As can be expected, with so many visitors, people queue for hours to for their first prayer, though many do not wait to get to the front of the queue, instead of tossing their coins far over people’s heads to make their ritual donation.
Meiji Jingu Shrine
Asakusa Shrine is one of the 840 important shrines in Japan and is another popular hatsumode spot. In previous times the Sensoji temple closed its doors on New Year’s Eve, only opening them at midnight. However, as the temple has grown in popularity, this practice has been discontinued to protect the thronging crowds. At midnight parishioners ring the joya-no-kane (New Year bells) 108 times, and amulets go on sale to promote good luck for the coming year.
From January 1 to 6, a Buddhist ceremony called Shushou-e is held to pray for good luck and happiness in the coming year and to drive out evil spirits
Asakusa Kannon Shrine
According to Japanese legend, at New Year, foxes from all over Japan dressed in human form and visited Oji Inari Jinja. The legend was so strong that not only was it painted by Ukiyo-e master Utagawa Hiroshige, but it is still celebrated to this day, with the hatsumode Oji Kitsune-no-gyorestu Fox Parade.
Begun in 1993, the parade is an annual New Year’s Eve event at which people gather from 9:30 pm with chochin lanterns representing the light of life and hope, and wishing for the sound growth and happiness of the children. Fox masks are worn, children’s faces are painted, and stalls sell fox alcohol.
If you feel that you can’t do without the parties and Auld Lang Syne, Shibuya crossing is probably the best place to see in the New Year. Like other western celebrations such as Halloween and Christmas, the pubs, clubs, and nightclubs of the area have seen the western style New Year as another money-spinning occasion, and as such will be throwing countdown parties. At midnight many people gravitate towards Shibuya crossing to count down to the New Year in a style to which you may be more accustomed to.
Shibuya Station, Hachiko exit, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo Map
As the land of the rising sun, what better place to celebrate the turn of the New Year than its earliest beach countdown ceremony on Chichijima island beach in the Ogasawara archipelago. There are Taiko drum displays, arm wrestling competitions, dance exhibitions, and the ceremony concluded with the first swim of the year and the release of baby turtles into the wild at sunrise.
With a one-way boat trip taking up 25 and a half hours from Tokyo’s Takeshiba Passenger Ship Terminal, it’s certainly not the most accessible New Year party, but it is indeed one you will remember.
Chichijima Island Beach
A bit closer to home, on January 2 the Emperor makes public appearances at the Tokyo Imperial Palace. The palace is the primary residence of the Emperor of Japan, set in a large park-like area close to Tokyo Station. There are only two occasions a year on which the inner grounds of the palace are open to the public, and this is one of them, so it is a perfect time to satisfy any curiosity you may have after seeing it from afar.
The Emperor and family members are scheduled to address a gleeful crowd at 10:10, 11:00, 11:50, 13:30 and 14:20.
Tokyo Imperial Palace
Address: 1-1 Chiyada, Chiyoda, Tokyo
By Mark Guthrie