New Year’s Eve
Traditional activities on New Year’s Eve include watching the popular music program “kohaku uta gassen” on television and visiting a shrine or temple around midnight. In recent decades, countdown parties have become more numerous in the large cities, but fireworks at the turn of the year remain uncommon.
If you are in Japan during New Year, you can join the crowds doing hatsumode, the year’s first visit to a shrine or temple. Hatsumode festivities are held at practically every shrine and temple across Japan during the first dew days of the year, especially on January 1.
At popular shrines and temples you can experience a festive atmosphere with food stands and many people lining up for a prayer at the main hall, purchasing lucky charms for a fortunate new year and disposing their lucky charms of the past year. Most atmospheric is a visit to a temple around midnight on New Year’s eve, when the temple’s bell is rung repeatedly.
Some of the most popular shrines and temples, such as Tokyo’s Meiji Shrine, Kyoto’s Fushimi Inari Taisha, Osaka’s Sumiyoshi Taisha and Kamakura’s Tsuruoka Hachimangu each attract more than a million visitors over the first few days of the new year. Expect to line up for the more popular hatsumode sites in order to reach the offering hall for a prayer.
In order to accommodate the hatsumode activity, major urban train lines and lines serviing popular shrines and temples, such as the Ise Shrines and Naritasan Temple, run through the night from December 31 to January 1.
Emperor’s New Year Greeting
On January 2, the Emperor makes several public appearances at the Tokyo Imperial Palace. It is one of only two occasions during the year, when the inner grounds of the palace are opened to the public. (The other is the Emperor’s birthday on December 23.)
The Emperor and family members are scheduled to appear on a glass protected balcony around 10:10, 11:00, 11:50, 13:30 and 14:20, waving and shortly speaking to the flag waving crowd.