Join the Countdown to 2016 in Tokyo
In Japan and still looking for something to do New Year’s Eve? If partying is your thing, you won’t find the same all-out atmosphere on December 31st here that you may in other countries. Most Japanese families tend to stay home, with many tuning into TV specials such as public broadcaster NHK’s highly popular Kohaku Uta Gassen (year-end song festival). The holiday period is typically spent visiting shrines to pray for the health and future of loved ones, cleaning, and shopping. Let’s just say ringing in the New Year in Japan is mostly a rather toned-down affair.
Traditional New Year's decorations from Flickr cc by Andy Atzert
However, Tokyo, being a bustling capital and international megalopolis, offers plenty of events catering to all types of interests. Whether you’re looking to dig into tradition, turn the fun factor up with friends, or take in some stellar views, we’ve got you covered.
Tokyo by night by Nathan Hosken
Keep it traditional and visit a temple
Japanese families don’t just stay inside and watch J-pop all night. Some observe another tradition: going to their nearby temple or shrine to pray in hopes for a lucky new year. Want to join? Tokyo has many neighborhood temples and shrines to choose from, so festivities can be local and small. But bigger is better, right? Head to Meiji Jingu Shrine, where tens of thousands of Tokyoites welcome the new year. (Hint: if you are willing to wait, the crowds thin out later in the morning.) JR Harajuku Station on the Yamanote Line even opens a special exit for those heading directly to the temple. Don’t expect an entirely solemn evening. Plenty of food stalls will be open so you won’t have to start into 2016 on an empty stomach. Trains also run all night – but yes, they will be crowded.
Meiji Jingu on New Year's Eve from Flickr cc by john_v_mccollum
Feel the magic at Tokyo Disneyland
Disneyland is one of Japan’s most popular attractions, drawing millions of visitors a year. It only makes sense that one of Japan’s biggest New Year’s parties goes down at Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea. The bash, which opens at 8 pm on the 31st and lasts until 7 am the next morning, means you can have a rare all-nighter at the parks. Special shows and parades this year include characters from The Jungle Book and Aladdin and an impressive fireworks display to welcome the year 2016. Disney fans can scoop up Mickey-branded New Year’s souvenirs such as daruma dolls, and eat Disney-fied takes on traditional Japanese New Year’s food.
Tokyo Disneyland all lit up from Flickr cc by Ricky Brigante
Dive into the madness of Shibuya crossing at midnight
At Halloween and following major Japanese sports victories, Shibuya often gets labeled as the “Times Square of Tokyo”. New Year’s Eve is another time when the comparison is spot on. The area around Shibuya station – Shibuya Crossing – transforms into a free-flowing party on the night of December 31st. Drawing hordes of revelers all waiting to ring in the New Year, the crossing definitely gets crowded. So crowded that the Hachiko entrance/exit of JR Shibuya Station and some nearby subway entrances will apparently close from 10 pm on New Year's Eve until 2 am on New Year's Day in a measure to stem crowds. In any case: if you want to be surrounded by thousands to start off 2016, arrive before the clock hits midnight.
Shibuya crossing for New Year's Eve by Nathan Hosken
Dance the night away
Hitting up a club is an excellent option for those who want something more energetic than a temple or a theme park. Tokyo has venues all over the place, especially in the Shibuya area. Simply stumbling into any one of them before midnight will likely result in a solid lineup and final countdown. But “final countdown" takes on a special meaning this year at Shibuya’s Air. Beloved by local dance music fans, this venerable and popular club is closing down January 1st. Bound to make for an unforgettable night, Air’s final lineup features Detroit techno legend Derrick May, and long-running Japanese artist DJ Emma.
Dancing the night away at Club Air, Shibuya from Flickr cc by Tokyo Times
Selfies and a sunrise at Tokyo Tower
Countdown crowds and New Year's fireworks are eschewed at the iconic Tokyo Tower. Yet the Tower has its own, unique New Year's countdown tradition. From December 26th to December 30th you can reflect on the last days of 2015 – and take some selfies! – as the year is proudly displayed in lights high on the tower. Or wake up early to see the year's first sunrise, another deep-seated good luck tradition. On New Year's Day, Tokyo Tower will open from 6:00 am. The first two thousand and sixteen people to arrive can get an etched commemorative souvenir. Admission to a special observatory at the 250-meter mark is limited to the first 80 people. Or try hatsumode(the first New Year visit to a shrine) at the Tower Dai-jinja (shrine) on the 2nd-floor observatory deck. This shrine was blessed in 1977 by Ise Shrine, Japan’s number one spiritual power spot.
Sunrise at Tokyo Tower from Flickr cc by dat'
Wherever you decide to go, have a great New Year’s Eve! If you know of other fantastic Tokyo New Year's Eve events for 2015, please share them in the comment thread.
Patrick is an ODIGO Local Expert; see more trips and spots he recommends in Tokyo!