13 Things to do in Tokyo During New Year

New Year’s is a particular time of year! It’s a time when we take a moment to reflect on the past Year and look forward to the new one ahead. 

Tokyo is one of the world’s most vibrant and electric cities, and New Year’s celebration is only complete with experiencing at least some of its unique culture and attractions. 

Whether you’re a traveler from out of town or a local looking for exciting ways to ring in the new year, this post is for you. 

Here are 13 great activities and experiences to enjoy in Tokyo during the New Year holiday. 

From traditional temple visits to unique nightlife experiences, you’ll find something to make everyone happy. 

So get ready for a spectacular start to 2024 and explore what Tokyo offers.

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1. The Live Music Scene in Tokyo at New Year

Shibuya

There’s always a supply of things to do in Tokyo, and New Year’s is no exception. 

If you’re looking for a wild time, you’ll want to go to Shibuya to see the countdown event. The atmosphere is electric, and the energy is contagious.

Ageha is always popular on New Year’s Eve if you want to dance the night away. 

They have a fantastic lineup of DJs, and the party goes until the early morning hours.

2. Must-Visit Temples and Shrines to Celebrate the New Year

In Tokyo during the New Year, you must visit some of the city’s most famous temples and shrines. 

Each has unique traditions and celebrations that make for a particular way to ring in the New Year.

My favorites include the Meiji Shrine, located in the heart of Tokyo and one of the city’s most popular tourist destinations. 

The shrine is dedicated to Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shoken. It’s a beautiful place to visit and the perfect spot to reflect on the year that’s coming to a close.

Sensoji Temple is another must-visit spot during New Year’s. 

Located in Asakusa, it’s one of Tokyo’s oldest temples and is always packed with tourists and locals who come to pray for good luck in the New Year. 

The temple also has a massive incense burner that creates an incredible smell throughout the entire area.

3. Traditional New Year’s Foods to Try in Tokyo

mochi

There are some traditional New Year’s foods that you have to try in Tokyo. My favorites are sweet black beans, mochi rice cakes, and ozone soup.

Black beans are a New Year’s tradition because they’re a lucky food. 

Mochi rice cakes are famous because they’re regarded as symbols of longevity, and ozoni soup is eaten. After all, it’s thought to bring good fortune in the New Year.

If you’re looking for a taste of Japanese culture and want to try some traditional New Year’s foods, Tokyo is the place to be!

4. Visit a Sake Brewery and Experience Sake-Tasting

sake-production

If you’re curious about the country’s sake culture, visiting a sake brewery is a must-have experience on your New Year trip to Tokyo. 

On my visit to Sawanoi Ozawa Shuzo sake brewery, I had the chance to go behind the scenes and learn about the production process. 

I also participated in a tasting session, which was fascinating!

This 5-hour tour was an eye-opening experience as it gave me an insight into this age-old process. 

We were shown how they make their products using rice, koji, and yeast, and we even got to enjoy a tasting session of the freshly brewed sakes. An affordable and fun way to soak in some of Japan’s sake culture!

5. Experience the Joy of Hatsumode: First Shrine Visit of the Year

One of the most exciting things to do in Tokyo during New Year’s is to participate in Hatsumode, the first shrine visit of the year. 

People all over Japan flock to shrines or Buddhist temples on New Year’s Day and pray for good fortune and health. 

It’s a beautiful tradition everyone should experience if they have the chance.

At many shrines and temples, you can buy lucky charms called Omamori.

They come in various sizes and shapes, from tiny paper pouches to larger-sized leather wallets for carrying money and personal belongings.

Each Omamori is said to bring good luck throughout the year, so make sure you pick one up! 

You’ll also get your hands on other unique items, such as votive tablets, offering cards with prayers written on them, or even traditional Japanese toys.

And remember, from 9 am to 4 pm at many Shinto shrines, visitors are often treated to free cups of sake or amazake, a type of sweet, low-alcohol sake (yeah!). 

Nothing compares to being surrounded by friends, family, and strangers alike while ringing in the New Year in this unique way; it’s truly unforgettable!

6. Unique Traditions in Tokyo to Take Part in During the New Year

Spending New Year’s in Tokyo is worth it; there are many unique traditions you can only experience in the city! 

Eating Toshikoshi Soba (soba noodles) the night before New Year’s Day is a must-do tradition. 

It’s known as Toshi Koshi because slurping it up symbolizes cutting off the old year and starting anew.

Another Tokyo tradition is watching the Kohaku Utagassen TV show

This show has been aired on NHK for over 50 years and brings together some of Japan’s most prominent musicians and entertainers from different genres to perform. 

If you’re looking for an exciting activity, join one of the many countdown events and parties held throughout Tokyo during this time of year.

On New Year’s Day, elders give younger family members Red Envelopes with traditional Japanese paper money inside as a good luck charm to start the new year.

7. Taking Part in Local Performances and Parades

Fireworks Festival

One of the best ways to get into the spirit of Japan’s festivities is to participate in local performances and parades. 

In Tokyo, you can participate in the Fireworks Festival, which takes place on New Year’s Eve. 

This annual event draws thousands of people to watch over 10,000 fireworks light up the Tokyo skyline.

The Kōhaku Uta Gassen is another must-see event during New Year’s celebrations. 

This annual music show features some of Japan’s top pop music acts competing for top honors, traditional Japanese songs, and dance numbers that celebrate Japanese culture. 

8. Shopping for Local Souvenirs and Traditional Crafts

Saitama

What better way to commemorate a memorable trip than bringing home unique local souvenirs and crafts? 

Tokyo provides endless opportunities to find the perfect gift, with local souvenirs and crafts thoughtfully categorized by prefectures. 

Popular favorites include sweets, snacks, hanging fabrics, chopsticks, washi paper, and anything made from wood or lacquer.

You can also stock up on regional specialties from popular shopping destinations such as Asakusa, Shinjuku, and Ueno. 

And for something extraordinary, there are shops in towns surrounding Tokyo, like Kawagoe City in Saitama and Fujisawa City in Kanagawa Prefecture, where you can find items crafted by local artisans.

Of course, if you’re stuck on what to purchase, bringing back some omiyage (gift packages of local snacks) is always a safe bet. 

But be sure to shop around, as prices can vary between stores.

9. Take a Day Trip Out of Tokyo to Soak Up Rural Japan

Kamakura

Kamakura, an hour away by train, is an excellent option for a peaceful break from the craziness of New Year’s.

Once you’re there, you can explore the many temples and shrines. 

One is the Great Buddha of Kamakura (Kamakura Daibutsu in Japanese), a giant bronze statue that is one of Japan’s most iconic symbols. 

And on your way back to Tokyo, try some of the traditional food Kamakura is known for.

10. Enjoy Traditional Japanese Games at a Downtown Arcade

If you want something more exciting, head downtown to one of Tokyo’s many arcades. 

Here you can find traditional Japanese games like pachinko and taiko drumming and modern ones like driving games and virtual reality experiences.

One of the most popular traditional Japanese games is called pachinko. 

It’s like a combination of pinball and slot machine, played with small steel balls that you shoot into the machine. Taiko drumming is another fun choice, where you use electronic drums to time your beats and score points. 

If you’re feeling adventurous, there are even more unique options, like crane machines and UFO catchers!

No matter what type of game you choose, arcades offer a perfect way to experience Tokyo’s mix of new and old culture in one place. 

11. See the First Sunrise of the New Year

Witnessing the new year’s first sunrise is a tradition in which many people in Tokyo participate. 

The view from the top of Mt. Fuji is breathtaking and a great way to start the new year.

I’ve been fortunate enough to witness this beautiful sight a few times, and it’s an experience I’ll never forget. 

This is if you’re looking for an early morning activity to kick off your new year. Just be sure to get there early to claim your spot!

12. Go to a Karaoke Bar

Karaoke is a must-do activity for all visitors to Tokyo, and there’s no better time than New Year’s. 

Many karaoke bars offer private rooms, so you can sing without being embarrassed around strangers. 

Some of the larger karaoke bars even have their food and drink menus, plus they might offer a special New Year’s menu with festive fare. 

You’ll also find karaoke bars with different music and themed rooms so that you can customize your experience. 

And who knows, you’ll meet new people while belting out your favorite tunes! 

So take a break from the hustle and bustle of the city, and sing your heart out at a cozy karaoke bar in Tokyo!

13. Fireworks at Tokyo Skytree

If you’re looking for a way to ring in the New Year with a bang (literally!), look no further than Tokyo Skytree, one of the city’s most iconic sights! 

During the new year’s celebrations, Tokyo Skytree is lit with colorful fireworks that will make your jaw drop.

The fireworks usually last about 10 minutes; even better, you don’t have to get up close; you can watch from a distance. 

I recommend heading to the nearby Sumida River or Sensoji Temple so you can find the perfect spot to watch.

If you have the cash, there are plenty of restaurants and bars in Sumida with balconies where you can enjoy dinner, drinks, and some of the best views in Tokyo. 

There’s nothing quite like watching fireworks while eating good food and sipping on a cocktail, the perfect end (or start!) to your New Year’s adventure!

Planning is vital to having a great time in Tokyo.

There are two main reasons why planning ahead is critical to having a great time in Tokyo over the new year. 

The first reason is that you’ll have more fun without worrying about finding a place to stay or buying tickets on the spot

The second reason is that it’s simply better for your wallet; many places will charge higher prices during this period, and booking in advance can save you some cash!

Conclusion

Despite its reputation as a tourist destination, Tokyo is straightforward to navigate. 

There are endless opportunities for activities and entertainment in Japan’s capital, whether visiting temples and shrines or shopping at local markets.

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