Visiting Tokyo over the new year.
November 9, 2009 7:27 AM   Subscribe

I'll be visiting Tokyo for the first time over the new year. I arrive on 12/30 and plan to return to the states on 1/06. Looking for suggestions on where to stay and what to do (I understand most shops and attractions will be closed on and around the new year).
posted by aladfar to Travel & Transportation around Tokyo, Japan (8 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Well there are some things that are definitely not closed, and are most awesome on New Year's!
1) This is a family holiday here, not a party-party holiday. At midnight people go to temples to make wishes for the new year and eat festival foods. Go to a big big temple and enjoy the atmosphere! I haven't done this in Tokyo, but Meiji-Jingu (Harajuku) or Asakusa should be interesting. It is called hatsumode (初詣).

2) There's after-Christmas sales, and then there are after-Christmas sales. On 1/1, the big department stores and all the little stores put stuff in mystery bags and the shoppers come in hordes and go crazy for them. It is really really shocking, and fun even if you just want to watch. It is called a huku-bukuro sale (福袋).

You may also consider day or two-day trips to Nikko, Kamakura, or Hakone. This is a great combination of temples and hot spring baths, which are great for this time of year. Find a ryokan for a night or two.
posted by whatzit at 8:14 AM on November 9, 2009

I recommend visiting one of the parks on an early Sunday afternoon (Harajuku/Yoyogi Park) or Ueno.

Akihabara is a standard tourist spot for the quirky electronic shops and arcade if you are into that.

Ginza contains Kabukiza which has the large theatre showing Kabuki. You can pay to see a single act or the entire show. I recommend a single act unless you are very into it because the show is quite long. Ginza also contains a main road which closes down on the weekends which has numerous high end shops.

When I visited, I checked out the nightlife in Shibuya (more standard fare) and Shimokitazawa (less standard fare, subculture, street performers, bands). Outside the Shibuya train station is Hachiko crossing (pedestrian crosswalk) which is an amusing sight to see during rush hour.

I do recommend taking a short train ride up to Kamakura to see the Shinto temples and Great Buddha. I imagine it would be quite pretty even in early Winter.

I highly recommend trying out local fare for restaurants as much as possible. There are fantastic streetside restaurants serving a variety of styles (hayashi rice, sushi, sobe, ramen, udon, donburi) depending on the shop.
posted by seppyk at 8:21 AM on November 9, 2009

Yeah, I've been to Senso-Ji for Hatsumode. Lots of festival food and folks out with their families.

The Imperial Palace will be open to the public on January 2nd.
posted by ursus_comiter at 8:55 AM on November 9, 2009

You may be able to attend the Emperor's New Year's Address. It was open to the public when I was there anyway, and how often do you get to see the only Emperor left on the planet in person?
posted by sotonohito at 9:04 AM on November 9, 2009

In regards to where to stay, my friend and I stayed in Shinjuku for a week last month and found it to be a good spot because of the massive train station. While there is plenty to see/do in that ward, it was exceptionally easy to get out and get to wherever else we wanted to go.
posted by dogwalker at 10:17 AM on November 9, 2009

Shinjuku, Giza, Asakusa, and Shibuya are the favorites. if you want to PARTY on New Years, go to Roppongi. All of the foreigners will be there and the subways run until 3 am instead of 12 because of the holiday. Every bar will be giving out saki at midnight. I had the best time running around with people from Saudi and Hawaii and Africa, etc. I know that Roppongi might seem cheesy, but you've got to go to Roppongi Hills once in your life. My friend says Akihabara is the best district for tourism. Make SURE to go to Don Quixote. Go to Harajuku on a Sunday to see all the women in their crazy outfits.

I second staying in Shinjuku or even Asakusa. Hostels are very good and cheap in Japan, and I would reccomend getting one. They are all incredibly clean and accommodating. You can always stay in a manga cafe overnight, too. Don't forget to check out the art. Tokyo is chock full of amazing art. Go see a noise show while you're there.
posted by vas deference at 1:01 PM on November 9, 2009

You should be aware that most ryokans and minshukus will be closed from the 31st to the 3rd. Most of the department store sales start on the 2nd, but there are some stores open on the 1st (poor bastards).

On New Year's Eve, the trains actually run all night, usually one or two trains an hour. I've been to Roppongi for New Year's, and it was sort of bleak. It's okay for a couple hours, but being alone in a dive on New Year's, not my thing. Do go to one of the temples. Meiji-jingu is completely packed, and there's not much to do once you've gotten to the point where you toss your five yen. Try Asakusa instead. There are food stalls set up all around the temple, and the atmosphere is wonderful.

Take trips to Kamakura and Nikko if you get the chance, but remember, the ryokan are probably closed. You should search online for a ryokan now, if you're thinking of doing that, since Japanese people like to plan early. You might find that, while they're closed on the 1-3rd, they could well be booked solid from the 4th onward.
posted by Ghidorah at 3:56 PM on November 9, 2009

Tokyo during the new year holidays is great if you enjoy crowds. If that's the case, the above suggestions will be perfect.

If, on the other hand, you'd like to enjoy the festivities at a more languid pace, I recommend taking a day trip out to either of Hakone, Enoshima, or Takao-san on New Year's Day. They all have good-sized shrines as well as numerous shops that should be open and catering to visitors. Enoshima and Takaosan are compact and easily accessed by train; Hakone is spread out, with Hakone Shrine being somewhat distant from the rest of the hot spring resort area. At Hakone you would be able to visit a hot spring without needing to stay in a hotel, which would probably save you a lot of money. Enoshima is close to Kamakura and its major shrine, Tsurugaoka Hachimangu, so you could easily spend a day or two exploring those two areas. Takao-san is an easy day trip from Tokyo on the other end of the Keio Line out west, but doesn't require as much time to explore as Hakone or Enoshima/Kamakura.

Exploring Tokyo can be done as long as you avoid shrines on the 1st and 2nd of January; after that there will still be crowds, but manageable ones. Asakusa might be good to visit on the 4th or 5th, since those are weekdays and Tokyo will be back at work. Since you won't be here but for a week, I would skip Nikko in favor of Kamakura simply due to proximity and concentration of sights. You could easily visit Yokohama on your way back to Tokyo if you choose, as well.

Incidentally, since it's gotten colder there aren't as many costumed teens exhibiting themselves near Harajuku Station; they also seem to be dwindling in number in general. Akihabara seems to have more of them on weekends, albeit with an anime theme. Don't visit Roppongi; do visit Tokyo Tower, or the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building if you want to save 1420 yen.

This hotel is centrally located, inexpensive, and well-furnished. The sooner you can make a hotel reservation, the better -- rooms are already being booked up for the holidays.
posted by armage at 5:46 PM on November 9, 2009

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