Culture

Counting down to the Year of the Boar: Festivals, foxes and fireworks welcome 2019 in Tokyo

by Alyssa I. Smith

Staff Writer

With the end of the year drawing closer, the pressure is on to figure out how to greet the Year of the Boar. If the dwindling number of viewers staying in to watch NHK’s annual music showcase “Kohaku Uta Gassen” is any indication, more and more people in the Kanto region are choosing to head out for less traditional celebrations. There are plenty of things going on to kiss 2018 goodbye and start 2019 off right, but be sure to make plans now because many of these events tend to sell out quickly.

Countdown

A good soundtrack can be key to a proper New Year’s celebration and there are more than enough options in and around Tokyo to satisfy a variety of musical tastes. Countdown Japan is a music festival that will take place at the sprawling Makuhari Messe convention center in Chiba Prefecture, kicking things off on Dec. 28 and continuing until the early hours of the new year. Around 180 acts will play over the course of four days, with Sambomaster, Polkadot Stingray, Good Morning America, Su-xing-cyu and DJ Dainoji scheduled to start their sets before midnight on Dec. 31.

For something more low-key, Blue Note Tokyo, a jazz club located in Minami Aoyama, will hold a countdown show with composer and bass guitarist Marcus Miller and special guest Butterscotch.

If you’re looking to dance your way into 2019, nightclubs around Shibuya will be throwing parties of their own, with DJs like Metrik performing at Circus Tokyo, Derrick May at Sound Museum Vision and Nic Fanciulli scheduled to do a six-hour set at Womb, although after the frenzy that took place on Halloween at Shibuya’s crossing this year, skipping the clubs near Tokyo’s busiest intersection might be a good idea. Koto Ward’s massive nightclub, AgeHa, will feature Dutch electronic duo Showtek as its headliner, along with DJs from Japan and abroad.

To kick off the new year with an adrenaline rush, Tokyo’s amusement parks are a great option. Asakusa Hanayashiki, Japan’s oldest amusement park, will stay open until 1 a.m. to let revelers enjoy special comedy shows, illuminations made up of around 500,000 sparkling LEDs and a variety of rides.

For Disney fans looking for a touch of magic, Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea will not disappoint. Both parks will allow visitors to enter from 8 p.m. and stay into the morning. When the clock strikes midnight, a special fireworks display will light up the sky over both parks.

Joypolis, an indoor amusement park in Odaiba that offers over 20 attractions, including virtual reality games, has plans for a countdown party that will include live shows with comedians and musicians. The park will keep its attractions running until 5 a.m. on New Year’s Day.

Although not technically an amusement park, Sky Circus Sunshine 60, an observation deck located in the tallest skyscraper in the area of Ikebukuro Station, will also hold a countdown event complete with live comedy, musical performers and virtual reality games.

For a night of elegance and glamor, hotel bars make a good place to start the year, such as the Countdown Lounge at Park Hyatt Tokyo and the Final Heisei Countdown Party at Shangri-La Hotel, Tokyo. The glitzy parties will feature live music, DJs, cocktails and Champagne.

For those looking for romantic views of Tokyo and Yokohama’s landmarks by the cities’ waterfronts, Yokohama Bay and Tokyo Bay have plenty to offer, such as cruises with buffet dinners, live music and views of the Rainbow Bridge, Tokyo Tower and Tokyo Skytree. Also, it’ll be hard to miss the spectacular fireworks shows on both waterfronts.

Here comes the sun: Tokyo Tower
Here comes the sun: Tokyo Tower’s observatory provides an excellent view of the year’s first sunrise. | © TOKYO TOWER

Hatsuhinode

Speaking of Tokyo’s towers, their observatories are the perfect spots for taking in the hatsuhinode, the first sunrise of the year. This Japanese tradition is believed to be an auspicious way to start the year, so scoring the perfect spot will make the moment even more memorable. Tokyo Tower and Tokyo Skytree will hold hatsuhinode-viewing events on Jan. 1 but as only a limited number of guests are allowed, tickets are available by lottery or by a first-come, first-served basis on the day.

Don’t worry if you don’t win tickets, though. Getting out of the city and welcoming the sunrise from nearby mountains in western Tokyo, such as Mount Mitake and Mount Takao, should guarantee equally good views.

Crowd control: People gather at Meiji Shrine for hatsumōde (first prayers).
Crowd control: People gather at Meiji Shrine for hatsumōde (first prayers). | CC BY-NC 2.0 / Nokton

Hatsumōde

Hatsumōde is the term used for the first visit of the year to a Shinto shrine. The first prayer is a long-standing tradition that is often carried out during the first few days of January. Major temples and shrines will have celebrations going on, such as a fox parade at Kita Ward’s Oji Inari Shrine where people dress as foxes, but it might be best to opt for smaller, local spots to avoid the crowds. In recent years, Meiji Shrine counted around 3 million visitors between New Year’s Eve and Jan. 3.


A roundup of New Year’s events in the Kansai region

Yuki Yamauchi
Staff Writer
Whether in the form of a snazzy shopping spree or something more traditional like a visit to a local temple, the Kansai region is well prepared to mark the new year. Below is a list of countdown venues where you’re sure to have a good time:
■Universal Studios Japan (Osaka): The park will host live gigs featuring hip-hop band Kick the Can Crew and more while reviving shows that were the highlights of each season. Don’t forget about the park’s attractions, either — you’ll be able to enjoy them as many times as you like until 9 p.m. on New Year’s Day. (7 p.m.-2 a.m.; tickets cost ¥12,800)
■Concerto (Hyogo): This floating restaurant will leave Kobe Harborland for the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge, which will be lit up until the first sunrise of 2019. Also available during the cruise will be a buffet, a show by a cappella quintet Permanent Fish and more. (10:30 p.m.-12:30 a.m.; tickets cost ¥15,000 or ¥18,000 for the countdown event)
■Suma Aqualife Park in Kobe (Hyogo): A 20-minute dolphin show kicks off the celebrations at 11:50 p.m. In other areas of the aquarium there will be different activities such as performances by musicians and dancers. (9 p.m.-1 a.m.; tickets cost ¥1,000 for the dolphin show)
■Tango Kingdom Shoku-no-Miyako (Kyoto): As the year changes, around 500 fireworks will be set off. Finding it hard to wait for the big moment on an empty stomach? No worries. The venue is a roadside station with restaurants, so expect special year-end dishes. (10 p.m.-12:30 a.m.; admission is free)
■Todaiji Temple (Nara): Many temples hold a New Year countdown with the time-honored tradition of ringing the temple bell. The main Buddhist site in Nara will let you take part in the celebrations. (From midnight. Limited to around 800 visitors on a first-come, first-served basis. Admission is free, but numbered tickets will be handed out at around 10:30 p.m.)
■Wakayama Marina City (Wakayama): Reggae singer Minmi will play live during the evening, followed by a fireworks display to mark the New Year. (7 p.m.-12:40 a.m.; admission is free)
■Okage Yokocho (Mie): Hoping for a little old-fashioned ambience when seeing in the new year? Then this area with its historical houses is the place to be. Celebrations will include a performance by traditional drummers, and you’ll be offered a swig of local sake for free at around 12:30 a.m. (From 11:30 p.m.; admission is free)
Attending a countdown event often involves braving the cold for a few hours. Don’t forget to dress warm.