Japan is a captivating destination that is widely recognized for its sizable population. It is also renowned for its futuristic cities like Tokyo and Kyoto. Aside from Japan’s remarkable advancements, it is a country blessed with exquisite landscapes, including lush mountains, breathtaking lakes, and abundant natural beauty. If you happen to be in Japan during the Japanese New Year, you may be curious about the range of activities you can partake in.
During this time of the year, most restaurants and businesses tend to be closed as people prefer to spend New Year’s at home. It is customary for individuals to exchange New Year’s greetings by saying “akemashite-omedetou gozaimasu” and engage in various festivities while relishing traditional delicacies such as Mochi (rice cakes) and more.
Ways to Celebrate the New Year in Japan
If you are eager to immerse yourself in the vibrant and festive traditions of the Japanese New Year during your vacation, here is a comprehensive list for your reference:
1. Participate in the Joya no Kane at temples
Many individuals visit shrines and temples to cleanse themselves of negative emotions and leave the past behind. You will have the opportunity to hear the bell toll 108 times to symbolize the eradication of past sins. Participating in this ancient New Year tradition is immensely popular. If you choose to visit Zozo-ji temple (the most esteemed temple in Tokyo), you will witness a historical site that has withstood the test of time and the aftermath of war. While the temple grounds may become crowded in the afternoon, you can still appreciate the serene forest and the verdant scenery that envelops this sacred place.
2. Engage in countdown parties at Port Yokohama
Visiting Port Yokohama during the start of the year can actually be an extremely enjoyable experience. This is an excellent location to be for a Japanese New Year celebration because of the vibrant atmosphere. You can observe the fireworks ignite and admire the ocean when it becomes midnight. The sight is truly awe-inspiring and it lasts for approximately 10 minutes. Afterward, you can simply proceed to any party that you can discover on the port. You can also explore Yokohama Hakkeijima Sea Paradise which is a massive theme park that features a vast aquarium, a shopping center, and numerous amusement rides if you opt to spend the whole day. You can devote the remainder of your time just exploring the port.
3. Be amazed at Mount Kaimon in Kagoshima
Since Japan is referred to as ‘The land of the rising sun’, one of the Japanese New Year traditions involves witnessing the sunrise on the initial day of the year. You can visit just about any mountain to acquire a fantastic view, you can even climb up Mount Fuji if you are up for the challenge, but Mount Kaimon is one of the simpler mountains to hike. Mount Kaimon is situated on Kyushu Island which is renowned for its natural hot springs and volcanic mountains. This mountain possesses an inactive volcano and provides a stunning outlook of the ocean. You can head up here a few hours before to be able to experience the sunset, or you can opt for a day trip if you are prepared for the hike.
4. Encounter the nightlife in Japan
Even though most individuals visit Port Yokohama for their countdown celebrations, a large number of people prefer to explore nightclubs. If you desire a fulfilling Japanese New Year celebration, then this would be perfect for you. You can either visit Shibuya or Roppongi in Tokyo which are both incredibly lively areas and are widely recognized for their nightlife. There is an abundance of clubs you can discover here. You can head to any club of your preference and savor some delectable food, beverages, and music. You can move around different clubs or party until the following morning.
5. Pay a visit to Meiji Jingu-Mae Shrine for the initial prayer of the year
Yet another one of the highly popular Japanese New Year customs would entail visiting a shrine at the onset of the year. This is referred to as Hatsumode. During this time, individuals pay a visit to a shrine, present offerings, offer prayers, make wishes, and even acquire numerous fortunate charms. Meiji Jingu-Mae Shrine happens to be one of the largest shrines in Tokyo and is remarkably exquisite. It was constructed as a tribute to the spirits of Emperor Meiji and his spouse. Most of the temples and shrines are quite crowded during this time of the year, and a plethora of food stalls and other vendors can be found in the vicinity. You can purchase amulets and necklaces to carry with you throughout the year. Many people procure them and then burn them the following year.
6. Witness the lions perform their dance at Japanese New Year festivals
If you have plans to visit any temples or shrines, you might just stumble upon lion dances taking place outside these establishments. Shishimai, or lion dancing, was not originally a part of Japanese culture, but it has now become deeply ingrained in it. During the festivities, the lions guard the shrines and gracefully dance around to the accompaniment of music. It is an immensely lively and enjoyable spectacle to be a part of. In addition, you will have the opportunity to relish some traditional New Year delicacies and marvel at a multitude of Japanese New Year adornments. The lions continue their dancing until they encounter individuals who have children; they playfully nibble on the child’s head. This act is believed to bring good fortune and good health.
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