Hatsuhinode - First Sunrise of the New Year in Japan

New Year in Japan: Worth a Visit?

Japan is a fascinating destination with a captivating culture, delectable cuisine, and awe-inspiring sights. But today’s article is about a very specific question, “Is spending the New Year in Japan worth it?” Let’s explore this together and find out what it’s like visiting Japan during New Year’s.


New Year in Japan: Worth a Visit?

If you’re reading this article, then you’re probably considering a trip to Japan at the end of December and into early January. This time of the year is known as shōgatsu, or the New Year holiday, and it’s an integral part of the Japanese cultural calendar.

Kagami Mochi Decorations

Nesnad, via Wikimedia Commons

At this time of year, decorations are put out, families get together, and a sense of joyous celebration fills the air. It’s a serene and calm time, filled with traditions that date back for centuries. I know! All of this sounds absolutely delightful, on the surface.

Pine and bamboo decorations outside an office building in Japan

Katorisi, via Wikimedia Commons

But, before you start packing your bags, you need to know one important thing. During this holiday, a significant number of tourist attractions in Japan are closed.

How Japan Celebrates the New Year

The way Japan celebrates New Year’s Day is very similar to how Americans celebrate Christmas. And it’s not uncommon for places to be closed for a few days before and after New Year’s Day.

Hatsumoude Atago Shrine Pic 1

Indiana jo, via Wikimedia Commons

In Japan, the new year isn’t traditionally celebrated with large gatherings of people listening to music, drinking alcohol, and watching fireworks.

Instead, families gather in their cozy homes, go to shrines at midnight to say their prayers for the new year, have special meals featuring traditional Japanese cuisine, and then watch the first sunrise of the year.

New Year Holiday Closures

From around December 28 to January 5, you’ll find that many shops, restaurants, museums, and other attractions are quiet, if not entirely shut down. As a tourist, this can make for a rather boring holiday.

Short list of popular attractions and New Year’s closed days:

Tokyo Museums:

Idemitsu Museum of Arts (12/25-1/4)

Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo (12/28-1/1)

National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo (12/4-1/22)

National Museum of Nature and Science (12/28-1/1)

Suntory Museum of Art (12/4-1/30)

The Japan Folk Crafts Museum (12/25-1/13)

The Japanese Sword Museum (12/25-1/5)

The National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation (12/28-1/1)

The National Museum of Western Art (12/28-1/1)

Tokyo National Museum (12/25-1/1)

Tokyo Gardens and Parks:

Hamarikyu Garden (12/29-1/1)

Higashi Gyoen (Imperial Palace East Garden) (12/28-1/3)

Kiyosumi Garden (12/29-1/1)

Koishikawa Korakuen Garden (12/29-1/1)

Rikugien Garden (12/29-1/1)

Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden (12/29-1/3)

Tama Zoological Park (12/29-1/1)

Ueno Zoological Gardens (12/29-1/1)


The Tokugawa Art Museum (12/16-1/3)

Meiji-mura (12/31 & 1/1)


Kyoto National Museum (12/25-1/1)

The National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto (12/28-1/3)

Kyoto City KYOCERA Museum of Art (12/28-1/2)

Kyoto Imperial Palace (12/28-1/4)

Katsura Imperial Villa (12/28-1/4)

Nijo Castle (12/29-31)


Nara National Museum (12/28-1/1)

Nara Prefectural Museum of Art (Dec.-1/12)


Osaka Castle (12/28-1/1)


Himeji Castle (12/29-12/30)


Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum (12/30-12/31)

Note: This is not an in-depth list of all the attractions in these areas or in Japan. Be sure to check the latest information before you visit. Advance reservation may be required for some museums, gardens, and parks.

New Year’s in Japan: What to do?

There are unique New Year celebrations in Japan and a whole range of fascinating experiences. Seeing them yourself may help you understand Japan at its quietest and most peaceful times.

Hatsumoude Atago Shrine Pic 2

Indiana jo, via Wikimedia Commons

You could participate in what’s known as Hatsumōde, or the first shrine visit of the New Year. It’s the practice of visiting shrines to offer prayers for the coming year. Expect massive crowds and long lines.

Toshikoshi Soba

ume-y, via Wikimedia Commons

Enjoy some toshikoshi soba, the tradition of eating buckwheat noodles on New Year’s Eve. This custom symbolizes bidding farewell to negative experiences and wishing for a long and prosperous life.


掛川市ウェブサイト, via Wikimedia Commons

Then you could either stay up all night, or wake up early on the first day of the New Year to watch the very first sunrise, known as hatsuhinode. 

Final Thoughts

So, is spending the New Year in Japan worth it? The answer depends on what you want to get out of your trip.

If you’re looking for a vacation with tons of activities and packed with tourist attractions around every corner, it might be better to choose another time to visit.

If you’re going to visit friends or family, and don’t mind having fewer activities and dining options, then it certainly is worth going to Japan for the New Year’s holiday. It’s a beautiful time that offers a unique perspective to travelers willing to embrace it.

If you’re still undecided, that’s ok! Perhaps, a different time of year could be the answer for you. Either way, Japan awaits with open arms, no matter the season.

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