For Japanese people, New Year’s is the most important holiday/festival of the year. This is when families gather to feast and visit their local temples and shrines to pray for good fortune in the coming year.
New Year’s celebration at Senso-ji Temple in Asakusa © mrhayata
New Year’s is a fantastic time to be in Tokyo, but keep in mind that some places will be closed. It’s certainly possible to travel in Japan during this time, but you will have to deal with some closures and inconveniences. For more details, scroll down to the What’s Open and What’s Closed on New Year’s in Japan section.
What To Do on New Year’s in Tokyo
New Year’s Feast
For Japanese, the most important part of the New Year’s holiday is gathering with the family to have a special feast, often held on the evening of December 31st or during the day on January 1st (or both). Unless you’re lucky enough to have friends in Tokyo, it will be tough to join such a feast, but you can sample the special Japanese New Year’s cuisine, known as o-sechi ryori, by stopping by one of the department stores and purchasing a ready-made assortment that you can eat at your lodgings.
O-sechi ryori New Year food © oimax
Another option on New Year’s Eve is to head to a luxury hotel and eat a bang-up meal at one of their on-site restaurants. See our Best Tokyo Luxury Hotels page for our top picks.
Joya-no-Kane (Sacred New Year’s Bell Ringing)
After feasting on New Year’s Eve, some Tokyoites head to their local temple to perform joya-no-kane, a sacred bell ringing ceremony. Here, people line up to ring the giant temple bells and wish for good fortune in the New Year (and to get rid of bad karma from the old). Technically, the bells are supposed to be rung 108 times, a number symbolizing the sins to which the flesh is heir, but many temples will allow everyone a chance to ring the bell even if it exceeds this number. Ask at your lodgings to see if there is a temple nearby that will be holding a joya-no-kane ceremony on New Year’s Eve.
Hatsumode (First Shrine Visit of the New Year)
One of the essential rituals for Japanese during the New Year’s holiday is hatsumode, the all-important first shrine visit of the New Year. Some people choose to visit their local neighborhood shrine, while others make the trek to one of the city’s larger famous shrines. Many people will visit a shrine on the evening of December 31st, while others during the day on January 1st, 2nd or 3rd. Once at the shrine, Japanese people will stand on line to ring the bell and say a prayer for a good New Year.
Hatsumode at Meiji-jingu Shrine © yoshikazut
Foreign visitors are more than welcome to join the queue and say a prayer at shrines. Some shrine-goers will also draw an omikuji (fortune) by shaking a numbered stick out of a special container and telling the number to the waiting attendant who will hand over the corresponding fortune (this costs Y100).
If you’re in Tokyo on New Year’s Eve, I strongly recommend that you visit one of Tokyo’s grand shrines. They’ll all be packed with throngs of people, but this is part of the fun. Here are some great places to experience a real Tokyo hatsumode:
- Meiji-jingu Shrine: This sprawling shrine in Harajuku is the most popular place in the city for hatsumode. Thehuge crowds are all part of the fun.
- Yasukuni-jinja Shrine: If you don’t mind the nationalist associations, this shrine near the Imperial Palace Area is a lovely place for hatsumode.
- Asakusa-jinja Shrine: Located next to Senso-ji Temple in Asakusa, this shrine attracts hoards of people. While hatsumode is technically a Shinto ceremony, most visitors to the shrine also say some prayers at the temple for good measure.
Tokyo Midtown, Roppongi, with holiday lights © othree
Where to Stay on New Year’s in Tokyo
Staying in a good Western-style luxury hotel is a good idea if you’re in Tokyo over the New Year’s holiday. This is because many of the city’s restaurants are closed over New Year’s, but hotel restaurants usually stay open and you’ll be able to dine at your lodgings rather than traipsing all over town looking for an open restaurant. As mentioned above, Tokyo’s luxury hotels often serve special dinners on New Year’s Eve.
Some good hotels in which to stay over the New Year’s holiday include:
- Mandarin Oriental Tokyo: Pure luxury within walking distance of Tokyo Station and Ginza.
- Peninsula Tokyo: One of the best hotels in the city.
- Ritz-Carlton Tokyo: A brilliant choice if you want a huge range of dining and nightlife nearby.
- Shangri La Tokyo: Above Tokyo Station, a superb choice for convenience and comfort.
For other hotel choices, see our Tokyo Hotels page.
What’s Open and What’s Closed on New Year’s in Japan?
Warning: It can be inconvenient to travel in Japan over the New Year’s holiday. While most attractions stay open, some attractions and many shops and restaurants will be closed. Here’s a list of what stays open and what closes over the New Year’s holidays.
Closed from December 31 to January 2nd (sometimes January 3rd)
- Post offices
- Public offices
- Restaurants (see below for more details)
- Museums and Galleries
- Sento (public baths)
- Department Stores (see below for more information)
Open Over the New Year’s Holidays
- All public transport and taxis
- Convenience stores
- Fast-food restaurants
Finding Places To Eat In Tokyo Over New Year’s
Since many restaurants are closed over the New Year’s holidays, it can be difficult to find places to eat. As noted above, convenience stores and fast food restaurants stay open, so these are always a good bet. Hotel restaurants also stay open. Finally, Tokyo department are usually only closed from the afternoon of December 31 and all day on January 1. Thus, you can buy food at their basement food floors from January 2, something that many Tokyoites do to tide them over until their local supermarket reopens, usually on January 3 or 4.
Where Are These Places Located?See these places on the Truly Tokyo Google map:
- Open the Tokyo map
- You will see the list of places on the left hand side. (Click the 3-line icon in the top left corner if not). Scroll down or use the map search (the magnifying glass icon) to find the place you want.
- Click the name of the place in the list. Its location pin will be highlighted on the map.
- Map pins are color coded - BLUE: Hotels / Ryokan / Guesthouses | VIOLET: Ryokan | PINK: Places to Eat | GREEN: Shops | YELLOW: Things to See and Do
- If you're using the map on your phone, open the map and then search for the name of the place. The map will then zoom in on its location.
Tokyo Vacation Checklist
- For all the essentials in a brief overview, see my First Time In Tokyo guide
- Check Tokyo accommodation availability and pricing on Booking.com - usually you can reserve a room with no upfront payment. Pay when you check out. Free cancellations too.
- Need tips on where to stay? See my one page guide Where To Stay In Tokyo
- See my comprehensive Packing List For Japan
- Compare Japan flight prices and timings on Skyscanner
- If you're visiting more than one city, get your Japan Rail Pass
- Get travel insurance for your Japan trip - book online with World Nomads