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Blending old and new for New Year’s

by Mayumi Koyama

Staff Writer

Thanks to the calendar this year, many people can have a long holiday, so many will be heading out of Tokyo on vacation. But if you’re staying in the capital, there will be enough events at the beginning of the year to get you out of the house, and to help you taste the traditional and unique aspects of Japan.

The following events are being held in the Tokyo area. As the zodiac animal for 2014 is the horse, some will feature the powerful and elegant creature, and while other Japanese New Year’s events will have the mainstay shishi-mai Japanese lion dance and calligraphy, you can also enjoy the first Japanese green tea of the year in a Japanese traditional garden park.

Roppongi Hills

On Jan. 1, Roppongi Hills welcomes visitors with a bargain sale as well as some special events at its public stage area, the Roppongi Hills Arena.

Dondoko, a Japanese percussion group, is performing live from noon and will provide a rousing start to the year. Powerful traditional Japanese shishi-mai lion dances will be held from 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. The dance is one of the annual events during New Year’s in Japan, and it is said that if a child is “bitten” on the head by a shishi (Japanese mythical lion), he or she will spend the year in good health. Also, from 1 p.m., the first 200 visitors to the event space will be treated to a cup of sake. On Jan. 2 and 3, some workshops, such as on making New Year’s decorations and calligraphy, will be held from 11 a.m. Admission is free.

The Tokyo City View observation deck is open from 10 a.m. on New Year’s Day, too. Through Jan. 3, visitors wearing kimono can get a ¥500 discount.

And through Jan. 31, a participatory game will be held, and people can search for clues to help them “escape” by solving riddles placed throughout the deck. Admission is ¥2,500 per person. At the deck’s Sunset Cafe, oshiruko (a heated, traditional Japanese dessert rice cake with red-bean sauce), will be served and at the Mado Lounge restaurant, special New Year’s menus will be available.

Also, Roppongi Hills signature Keyakizaka-dori illuminations will be lit from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m., through Feb. 16.

Tokyo Midtown

Through Jan. 26 (except New Year’s Day), Tokyo Midtown in the Roppongi district is garnished with New Year’s decorations featuring horses, 2014′s zodiac animal. Because horses have been one of the symbolic properties for fame, they are regarded as good luck. In the open-sky space of the Galleria, nine big horse-shaped wooden plaques, each carrying a different good luck wish, such as for business, good crops, marriage and health, are displayed as if the horses are galloping around wishing for a good year.

Why nine? In Japanese, a play on the words ku (nine) and uma (horse), could mean umaku iku (everything goes well), therefore it is deemed a lucky charm. Along with the horses, a kite-chain will be flying high. The theme of the kites is “make-a-face” and 100 of the faces that were submitted by visitors in December will be on show.

Also, rubber stamps featuring the Seven Deities of Good Fortune will be available at seven spots through the Galleria and visitors can collect them on an original card.

As last year, on Jan. 2, visitors to Tokyo Midtown can partake in a free tasting of sake at the Sake Shop Fukumitsuya from 10:45 a.m. to noon on the first floor of the Plaza. The first 800 visitors to the Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture-based shop can taste the sake in original Tokyo Midtown square wooden vessels, or masu, which can be taken home as a keepsake. And on Jan. 2 and 3, shishi-mai will parade through Tokyo Midtown.

Tokyo Skytree Town

The hottest item in Japan in 2013 (according to a survey by leading ad agency Dentsu Inc.,) Tokyo Skytree, is open from Jan. 1 and the interior will be decorated on the theme of hatsu geshiki (first scenery of the year). Windows of the observatory deck are decorated like a New Year’s card, and visitors can enjoy the blissful and fresh panoramic views of Tokyo from the tallest tower in the world. At 8 a.m., at the ticket counter on the fourth floor, the official character Sorakara-chan in kimono will welcome visitors with New Year’s greetings.

The Tokyo Solamachi, the shopping mall at the bottom of the tower, is holding a New Year’s bargain sale, and some events and workshops. From 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. on New Year’s Day, there’ll be a shishi-mai performance at the Sorami-zaka square on the first floor.

And Jan. 2 and 3, a powerful calligraphy performance by professional calligrapher Mohri Suzuki will be held from 1 p.m. at the fourth floor of the East Yard. There’ll be a hands-on free calligraphy workshop given by Suzuki after his performance.

On Jan. 4, at the Solamachi Hiroba, Japanese traditional ladder-top stunts will be performed by the Edo Firemanship Preservation Association.

Hamarikyu Gardens

On Jan. 2 and 3, there will be New Year’s events at one of Japan’s traditional garden parks, Hamarikyu. The park was an official ground for falconry during the Tokugawa shogunate, and Japanese falconry will be held at the inner moat square from 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. At the open square, people can enjoy traditional Japanese New Year’s games, such as hanetsuki and spinning a top, and the park’s staff will be on hand to explain how to play.

At the park’s cafes, Nakanojima-no-ochaya and Matsu-no-ochaya, Japanese green tea will be offered at ¥500 (from ¥700 with snacks). For this occasion, Matsu-no-ochaya will open specially from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and tea will be served for 15 people every 30 minutes.

Roppongi Hills is connected to Roppongi Station (Hibiya and Oedo lines). For more information, visit www.roppongihills.com Tokyo Midtown can be accessed directly from Exit 8 of Roppongi Station. For more information, visit www.tokyo-midtown.com. Tokyo Skytree Town is connected to Tokyo Skytree Station (Skytree Line ) or Oshiage Station (Hanzomon and Asakusa lines), or a 15-minute walk from Asakusa Station (Asakusa, Ginza and Skytree lines). For more information, visit www.tokyo-skytree.jp. Hamarikyu Gardens is a 7-minute walk from Shiodome Station (Oedo and Yurikamome lines) or a 12-minute walk from Shimbashi Station (various lines). For more information, visit teien.tokyo-park.or.jp.