From shrines to shops! 3 sightseeing spots to hit up in Tokyo during the New Year holiday
As soon as Christmas is over, Japan will switch to year-end and New Year mode, and there will be lots of events such as year-end sales, countdowns, and the first shrine visit on January 1st (New Year's Day)! There are a few useful tips and information you would need to know if you are travelling to Japan during this period. This time, we will focus on four areas in Tokyo - Shibuya / Harajuku area, Ginza, Asakusa, and Ame-yoko, on what to expect in these areas as well as to introduce how to enjoy the time during the year-end and New Year holidays!
※All information and prices listed are accurate as of October 2020.
(1) Shibuya / Harajuku Area
(2) Ginza Area
(3) Asakusa Area
(4) Ameyoko Area
Japan New Year and New Year's sale information? Check it out!
In Japan, the period from January 1 to January 3 is called New Year's Day, and the period until January 7 is called Matsunouchi or Matsushita Day, and this period is generally called New Year's Day”Shogatsu“.
Many companies are closed from the last week of December up until "The third day of the New Year", and many department stores, retail stores, restaurants, etc. are closed or operate at shortened business hours, so be sure to check the details in advance.
The New Year period usually refers to "sanganichi", the three days between the 1st-3rd, during which many companies and government offices are shorter opening hours or closed, and even retail stores and restaurants are also often closed.
However, most department stores and large retailers open from January 2nd. Additionally, regarding trains running in Tokyo, on the night of December 31st there is a special timetable where trains run all night due to the New Year countdowns and the great number of people going to the first shrine visit of the year!
※Opening hours during the New Year's holidays differ from store to store. Please check the official website of each store in advance.
On January 1st (New Year's Day), lots of Japanese go to shrines for "Hatsumode" to thank God for last year and pray for disease-free life in the next year, and eat New Year's Day food. Why don't you try spending New Year's in the same way as the Japanese? At the shrine, you can draw "Omikuji" (fortune for the year), purchase "Amulets" that reflect wishes such as warding off evil and receiving blessings, and write wishes on "Ema". After returning home, you can have a relaxing time with your family by watching special New Year's TV shows, flying kites, and playing battledore, which are unique to the New Year.
At department stores, there are also new year sales from the first business day of the new year! "Fukubukuro"(lucky bags), which are sold during the period of the new year sales, are also popular for Japanese and recently also to tourists because they have various products in each bag and the top of the bag is sealed so that the contents are unknown, what’s more, the value of the items you get is more than what you pay. Please refer to the official websites of each store for the dates and information about special offers of the new year sales. Moreover, some department stores issue discount cards for foreign visitors to Japan, so check the official website in advance or ask at the information desk. Also, make sure to wear warm clothes as the weather gets quite cold during the year-end and New Year holiday season!
（1）From shopping to the first shrine visit of the year!
Shibuya / Harajuku Area
In the Shibuya area lots of department stores stand, and you’ll find spots such as "Shibuya Scramble Square" which is newly opened on November 2019, and "Shibuya Marui", which also has an observatory on the top floor. These facilities are also closed on New Year's Day, which gives the city a slightly calmer atmosphere. If you visit Shibuya on New Year's Day, we recommend going to Yoyogi Park, which can be reached 10 minutes on foot from Shibuya. While you’re in the area, stop by Meiji Jingu shrine, which is right next to Yoyogi Park.
The congestion level during the first shrine visit period at Meiji Jingu is one of the highest in Japan, and on New Year's Day, it can take several hours from lining up to reaching the shrine itself. The busiest time is around midnight on New Year's Day. It is relatively quiet when the gates open on the 2nd from 6:40 AM to early morning, or in the evening until 7:00 PM.
（2）Browse the Shops
Ginza is lined with department stores and street shops of famous brands, and is a great place for shopping and strolling around the city. On Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays, it’s closed off to cars and becomes a pedestrian paradise, creating an open atmosphere. Besides luxury brand stores and department stores, there are also drug stores, cafes you can just enter casually, and well-known confectionery stores, so you can easily find souvenirs and find places to have a break. Like other areas, department stores will be closed on New Year's Day, but Hibiya Park and Tsukiji are within walking distance, so be sure to have a look around the surrounding area as well as Ginza itself
※Pedestrian paradise in the Ginza area may be cancelled if the weather is bad or during the New Year holidays.
(3) Browse the shrine stalls when visiting the Sensoji Temple for New Year and see Tokyo Skytree
Together with Sensoji Temple, Kaminarimon and Nakamise, Tokyo Skytree (R) observatory and "Solamachi" shopping can be enjoyed in the Asakusa area.
At Sensoji Temple, at midnight on December 31st (New Year's Eve), when the bell is struck on the small hill "Mt Bentenyama" located southeast of the main hall, attendees ring in the New Year with loud cheers and applause. Following that, while the bell is being rung 108 times, the attendees look back over last year during that time and pray for safety and good fortune in the New Year. “Talismans for good fortune & warding off evil” and "Aizen Hōkyū", which brings good fortune for marriage, academics, and good luck, can be obtained only from the 1st to 7th. The period when there are many worshippers is usually from the night of December 31st to the morning of January 1st. There is a line of worshippers in front of the shrine main hall, and you may have to wait a couple of hours before you can reach the shrine itself. Also, the shrine shopping street "Nakamise" which runs from the main hall of Sensoji Temple to the Kaminarimon gate, looks extremely gorgeous with New Year decorations during the New Year period. On New Year's Eve, many of the shops are open until around 10:00 PM, so you can enjoy looking for souvenirs.
(4) The classic place for year-end shopping
Ameyoko Area in Ueno
In Japan, it is customary for the whole family to have a reunion at the beginning of the year and eat the New Year's dish "Osechi".
Many people go to "bulk buy various things at the end of the year" in order to be prepared, put New Year’s decorations, and get new daily necessities in the new year. At this time of year, the shopping street "Ameyoko (Ameyoko Shopping Street Association)" that runs between JR Okachimachi Station and Ueno Station is particularly crowded with shoppers. Shoppers are bustling to snag high-quality seafoods such as crab and tuna, as well as dried food and confectionery. There are lots of shops that are having sales, and you can get great deals out of them. Let’s say the price of an item is a flat rate of 1000 yen（for example), and the energetic staff might add in another one for you! Don't miss the "tatakiuri" bargain sale where bags are packed full of confectionery.
It is crowded at the end of the year, so many shops will have sold out, especially by the morning of December 31st. It seems best to aim for early in the morning! We also recommend eating while walking here!
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Refer to the following for more information on the facilities mentioned in this article
SHIBUYA SCRAMBLE SQUERE
Tokyo Sky Tree