New Year’s Eve in Tokyo is celebrated a little differently than in say, London or New York City. Instead of a mass gathering in the Tokyo equivalent of Times Square or Trafalgar Square, you’ll find a mass gathering of a different kind at Tokyo’s Meiji Shrine.
In fact, at shrines and temples throughout the city (and all over Japan), residents gather to see in the New Year, enjoy the festive atmosphere and pray for good fortune in the coming year. In addition to Meiji Shrine, locals flock to Sensoji Temple in Tokyo’s Asakusa neighborhood. In Japan, New Year is seen as a time for rest, contemplation and spending time with the family. January 1st is also the beginning of a well-earned holiday for hard-working Tokyoites, so there is a sense of excitement and anticipation in the air in the lead up to New Year.
While a traditional New Year is the norm for most locals, there are still Western-style parties and events that are held in Tokyo. Plenty of clubs and other entertainment venues put on a party to celebrate the New Year, which can mean anything from a classical concert to a whole night of DJs spinning dance tunes until first light. Foreigners flock to the popular ex-pat neighborhood Roppongi for Western-style celebrations. Beats from bars and clubs in Shibuya and Shinjuku can be heard for blocks. Young locals and some visitors opt to ring in the New Year at Tokyo Disneyland. The theme park puts on a dazzling fireworks display. Another option to see fireworks is at Ikebukuro Sunshine City, the tallest observatory in Tokyo, where hordes of people gather to countdown to the New Year.
Without researching and planning ahead, finding a spot to count down until midnight could prove challenging. Traditionally in Japan, it is more important to see the sunrise on the first day of the New Year than to watch the clock tick over to midnight! Not many of us in the West can say we’ve seen the sunrise on New Year’s Day… or if we have, we probably don’t remember…
It’s important to remember that public transport within and outside of Tokyo is very busy from late December and in early January, and many tourist attractions, shops and restaurants close over the holiday period. Closure dates can change from year to year so it is worth checking online before you go.
-updated by Cyndi Waite