Tokyo Over the Holidays: What to Expect and Look Forward To
December 24th is Date Night
Expect long lines in cake shops, supermarkets, KFC, and convenience stores as people pick up their pre-ordered Christmas cakes (the most classic one composed mainly of an airy fluffy cake, whipped cream and strawberries) and buckets or trays of fried chicken (the result of an extremely successful advertising campaign) for an elaborate dinner with family. Yes, you read that right: Only in Japan do you pre-order from a fastfood joint and convenience store (You have to love Japan). On the upside, presents are not expected to be given or exchanged as much as in other countries.
Christmas Ends on December 25, But Thankfully Not All the Christmas Lights
The holiday season in Japan is about is wrapping up the year and getting ready for the next. This is why you will witness something quite astonishing on December 26th: Not a trace of Christmas. Gone. All gone. No trace of sales on Christmas cakes, candies, or decorations. No bargain sales related to Christmas. They treat Christmas as someone’s birthday, not a way of commerce. What you will find on December 26th are decorations related to bringing in the new year. And throughout the month of December, bonenkai (forget-the-year parties) are an opportunity for people to get together to look back over the year. In most cases they become opportunities for people to consume large quantities of alcohol and blow off steam. As a visitor, you will meet your fair share of drunk businessmen (almost always men), some of who may want to practice English with you. They are harmless. This is not the normal state of affairs. If wish to see elaborate displays of Christmas trees, reindeers, and Santa Clauses, get your fill before then. Shops have been known to start taking down the decorations on the 25th.
Some grand Christmas light displays though (which Japanese refer to as "illuminations") run from November into the new year, something to enjoy during the long dark, cold winter days. And they're free! Here are some popular spots in Tokyo to view the lights this year. Expect them to be crowded especially during the weekends.
- Tokyo Skytree. From December 1-25, projection mapping displays on the tower can be viewed every half hour between 17:30 to 20:00. The surrounding areas of the Skytree are also illuminated.
- Roppongi Hills Artelligent Christmas, features some 1.2 million LEDs, and runs from November 7 to December 25.
- Tokyo Midtown Illumination's Starlight Garden, features 510,000 blue LEDs and a makeshift planetarium set up, and runs from November 15 December 25.
- Chuo Street near Yurakucho/Ginza. If you're in the area, check out the impressive Christmas trees at Mikimoto and Maronnier Gate Shopping Center. Illuminations run from November 10 to February 18. The Yurakucho Center Building hosts a light display from November 9 to February 14.
- Omotesando Hills's "100 Color Christmas Tree Forest" (features 1,500 trees scattered all over the complex of high-end stores). Runs from November 8 to December 25.
- Tokyo Plaza Omotesando Harajuku's "Omahara Forest" (features 1,600 LEDs in a forest themed design). Runs from November 17 to February 28.
- Shinjuku's Terrace City Shopping Center. Illuminations run from November 15 to February 22.
- Yebisu Garden Place's "Baccarat Eternal Light" illumination, featuring a gigantic crystal chandelier, runs from November 3 to January 8.
- Tokyo Dome's "Brightly Sweets" illumination runs from November 9 to February 18.
New Year's is A Quiet Family Affair
If however, you really wish to join a countdown event to welcome 2018, here are some places to check out. Some are free but some require tickets to be purchased ahead of time.
- Tokyo Tower
- Hanayashiki Amusement Park in Asakusa
- Shibuya crossing (an unofficial event)
- Shangri-la Hotel Tokyo
- Tokyo Bay Countdown Cruise
- Nightclubs in Shibuya and Roppongi
The busiest time of the year for shrines and temples
That said, the areas near shrines and temples will be pretty congested. Three million of Meiji Shrine's ten million yearly visitors come in the first three days of the year. Expect heavy traffic around these areas.
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