While the New Year’s festivities overseas are a time for getting dressed up and hitting the town, what do people do in Japan? Well, you should consider this year a special one as it is the very last of the Heisei Era before Emperor Akihito abdicates next year to mark the beginning of a brand new era in Japan.
New era or not, however, New Year’s in Japan is a lot more like a Western Christmas: family affairs with plenty of focus on togetherness, trips to a temple or shrine, seeing the first sunrise of the New Year and eating lots of home-cooked foods. Those working in Japan will probably already have noticed that they’re scheduled to work up until Dec. 28. Right around this time, the mass exodus from Tokyo starts. People in Japan typically return to their hometowns to celebrate the New Year, leaving the city pretty empty and rather uncharacteristically quiet, much like Obon (festival of the dead) in the summer.
So if you’re in Japan at this very historical time, here are a few ways — traditional and not so — to make the experience a truly memorable one!
1. Have a countdown blast
Unlike most Western celebrations, countdowns in Japan tend to be a bit more reserved. This year, however, hotels, clubs and countless of other venues are organizing their special extravaganza versions of the “last Heisei” New Year’s celebrations, so there’ll be plenty of chances to attend one. The biggest one is around the Shibuya crossing, where like on Halloween, hundreds of people will be impromptu gathering to celebrate the beginning of 2019 together. But if you’re more into exclusive and slightly more high-end indoor events, check out The Shangri-La’s “Final Heisei Countdown Party” (pictured above), Grand Hyatt Tokyo’s Countdown Party at The Oak Door or The Peninsula Tokyo’s New Year’s Eve Dinner and “Havana Nights” Countdown Party.
For something more casual and perhaps wilder, bars, clubs and pubs in Shibuya, Shinjuku, Roppongi and the like will also be throwing memorable parties. Womb and Sound Museum Vision in Shibuya, plus Liquid Room in Ebisu are all good choices, while almost everywhere you go in Shinjuku is bound to be exciting.
2. Pray for an amazing year at a shrine
After having a home party with fun food, lots of TV and party games, you might want to head to a temple or shrine to ring in the New Year. Visiting a shrine or temple, or hatsumode (first shrine visit for the year), is the standard way to greet the new year and most of the famous ones see a million-plus people within a short period of time. If you don’t mind being surrounded by crazy crowds (we’re talking thousands of people), then the Meiji Shrine in