In Japan, New Year’s Eve is an important holiday to celebrate the end of the year and to prepare for the New Year’s Day. As such a big holiday, many big events are held on this day every year. Here we introduce some typical ways to spend New Year’s Eve in Japan and the popular countdown events to go in Tokyo.
- 1. Join Countdown Events and Parties
- 2. Celebrate The Year’s End with Bonenkai Party
- 3. Eat Toshikoshi Soba
- 4. Watch New Year’s TV Show: Kohaku Utagassen
- 5. Cleaning A Whole House to Welcome the New Year
- 6. Winning A Big Money?! Try Your Luck with Year-End Jumbo Lottery
- 7. Get Osechi for New Year’s Day
- 8. Listen to Joya no Kane (Ringing of the New Year’s Bell)
- 9. Getting Ready for The First Sunrise
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1. Join Countdown Events and Parties
In Japan, countdown events are held all over the place on New Year’s Eve. For example, on the south side of the main deck of Tokyo Tower, the number of the year is displayed when the date changes from New Year’s Eve to New Year’s Day. It would be quite interesting to spend your New Year’s Eve in front of Tokyo Tower, the center of Tokyo.
Theme parks are also putting more effort into countdown events. Tokyo Disney Resort also holds the New Year’s Day countdown event every year, and is open until midnight only on the New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. When the date of New Year’s Eve changes, gorgeous fireworks are set off and you can celebrate the New Year’s Day with all the Disney characters. The event is so popular that tickets are sold by lottery every year.
Popular countdown events in Tokyo
- YOU MAKE SHIBUYA COUNTDOWN (Shibuya)
- Kasai Seaside Park (Edogawa)
- Park Hyatt (Shinjuku)
- Tokyu Silvester Concert (Shibuya)
- Tokyo JoyPolis (Odaiba)
Popular clubs for countdown parties in Tokyo
- Club Camelot (Shibuya)
- Harlem (Shibuya)
- Club TK Shibuya
- Womb (Shibuya)
- ageHa (Shinkiba)
- V2 Tokyo (Roppongi)
- Maharaja Roppongi
- Esprit (Roppongi)
2. Celebrate The Year’s End with Bonenkai Party
For Japanese work life, you can’t forget about the Bonenkai Party which can be translated as forget the year party. Often coworkers and friends come together to celebrate the work of the past year. This bonenkai party is a relaxing and fun time for all the team members to reward all the hard work of last year by drinking alcohol and eating delicious food. Bonenkai party season peaks at the end of December every year, and many company groups make reservations for this party at izakaya restaurants.
3. Eat Toshikoshi Soba
There is one food that is traditionally eaten on New Year’s Eve. Soba. There are various reasons for eating Soba on New Year’s Eve, such as the wish to live a long life like a Soba noodle, the wish to cut off the bad luck and hardships of the last year and have a good year next year because Soba noodles are easy to cut, and the wish to stay healthy because Soba is very strong. The timing of eating Soba varies from person to person, but many people eat it at 11:00 pm or at dinner time on New Year’s Eve. There are soba noodles eaten in hot Japanese broth or chilled with cold water, and sometimes tempura is eaten together as a topping. This is indispensable food for New Year’s Eve in Japan.
4. Watch New Year’s TV Show: Kohaku Utagassen
There are some go-to TV shows to watch on New Year’s Eve, and Kohaku Utagassen (紅白歌合戦) is one of them. NHK, Japan’s public news broadcaster, broadcasts this music TV show every year from 7:30 pm until the very end of the New Year’s Eve.
It’s held at NHK Hall which is located near Yoyogi Park. And you will see many people lining up and trying to get a peak or sound of it from outside around the show time. The history of this event is very old and has been held for over 70 years. “Kouhaku (紅白)” means red and white, and popular Japanese singers compete with each other in songs and performances, divided into a red team and white team. TV viewers and judges at the venue vote for a red team or white team and the winner is determined at the end of the show. It is considered a great honor for a singer to be able to participate in Kouhaku Utagassen, and many Japanese singers are dreaming of participating in it. Since it is only held once a year, each singer’s performance is often quite gorgeous and involves the use of large stage sets. When New Year’s Eve arrives, the standard way to spend this evening is to watch the Kohaku Utagassen and eat soba noodles.
5. Cleaning A Whole House to Welcome the New Year
When you spend a year at home, dust and dirt inevitably accumulate. By spending New Year’s Eve on major cleaning, we can clean the entire house and welcome the New Year with a clean house. This custom is heavily influenced by Japanese Shintoism, and is said to be originated from a religious belief that Toshigami-sama (年神様) will bring wonderful fortune to your house on New Year’s Day every year, so your house needs to be clean to welcome the god. It varies from person to person, but some people wash the car, clean the air conditioner and remove all the dust from the whole house. Cleaning is a very important part of the New Year’s tradition to welcome the New Year’s Day to rest and refresh your home as well as your mind.
6. Winning A Big Money?! Try Your Luck with Year-End Jumbo Lottery
Every year for a month from the end of November, a lottery called “the year-end jumbo lottery” is getting popular and many people line up at the lottery booths. Since the lottery results are announced on New Year’s Eve, it is the biggest test for your luck on the last day of the year. Many people dream of getting rich on New Year’s Eve because they can win several hundred million yen if they win the first prize.
Believe it or not, there are several places said to be a winning location in Tokyo. Nishi-Ginza Chance Center, Shinbashi Station Karasumori Exit Takarakuji Lucky Center and Yurakucho Daikokuten Takarakuji Center are popular places which is known for a big winning.
7. Get Osechi for New Year’s Day
Since New Year’s Day is a very important day for all Japanese people, they prepare for it very carefully. Osechi is a typical New Year’s feast with many kinds of food packed in jyūbako boxes (重箱). For example, there are certain foods that should be included in Osechi, such as kamaboko, datemaki, and kazunoko (herring roe), etc. As the New Year approaches, various markets and supermarkets start to sell these foods for the osechi and many people go out to buy them in order to prepare the feast. They also buy tuna, sea bream, crab, and other luxurious foods, which fit the atmosphere of New Year’s celebrations.
If you stay at a ryokan or hotel, you can probably have a small osechi for breakfast. If you want to try a big osechi, department stores such as Shinjuku Isetan and Matsuzakaya in Tokyo offer gorgeous osechi sets which are already perfectly prepared.
8. Listen to Joya no Kane (Ringing of the New Year’s Bell)
Joya no Kane (除夜の鐘) is a Buddhist event held at temples in Japan. The bell is struck 107 times on the date of New Year’s Eve at midnight, and the last one hit on New Year’s Day at many temples. The Chinese character for “除” has the meaning of “throwing away the old and welcoming the new,” so it is a perfect event for New Year’s Eve to welcome the new year. It is said that ringing the bell 108 times is to purge “klesha”, which are worldly desires and have 108 in total. A bell is rung at temples all over Japan, and you can strike the bells at some places. However, some charge a fee or give out numbered tickets for ringing the bell, so it is better to check in advance.
In Tokyo, you can visit Zojoji temple in Roppongi which is one of the biggest bells in the Kanto region. To ring the bell, you need to pay and get a ticket beforehand. Araiyakushi Baishouin in Nakano City allows visitors to strike the bell until 2am for 500 yen. Honsenji in Shinagawa also allows visitors to strike the bell, but please respect the rules that says you need to take off your hat, smartphone or cellphone is not allowed and no-smoking in the temple site.
9. Getting Ready for The First Sunrise
Watching the first sunrise of the year is called Hatsu-hinode, and it’s one of the popular activities on New Year’s Day. And many people go out and get ready to see the first sunrise from the night of New Year’s Eve.
There are some spots where you can see the stunning view of sunrise in Tokyo, and the most popular spot is Mt. Takao. From Shinjuku, you can get to Mt. Takao in less than an hour. Since it’s a very popular spot for the first sunrise, usually there’s a long line even after midnight to get to the top for the best view.
Tokyo Skytree is another popular spot to watch the first sunrise. Tokyo Skytree is the tallest structure in Tokyo which is 634 meters in height. At the observation deck, you can see the rising sun overlooking Tokyo! The special admission ticket on New Year’s Day is sold for a limited amount, so it’s best to book in advance.
If you are willing to go out a little bit further outside of Tokyo, head to Choshi City in Chiba. Cape Inubo is one of the best spots for watching sunrise where the sun rises over the horizon.
Another day trip destination is Oarai Beach in Ibaraki which is known for the scenic view of Torii gate standing on the beach. That is Oarai Isosaki Shrine, and it is also a popular spot for the sunrise view as well as hatsumode, a New Year’s tradition of visiting a shrine or temple.
There are many events on New Year’s Eve that have a strong meaning of “leaving the old behind and preparing for the new”. New Year’s Eve is also a very important day to welcome the New Year with joy. Hope you find your own favorite way to spend New Year’s Eve in Tokyo.
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Mao Goto is a Japanese freelancer who was born in Hayama, Kanagawa prefecture, and raised in Tokyo. Since 2016 she lives in the Taito Ward, home to a lot of Japanese culture hotspots such as Asakusa, Akihabara, and Ueno. She has been interested in the field of English education of Japan and got her Master’s degree in March, 2020. A lover of photography, travel, sweets, and cross-stitch. Contact her via Facebook.
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