Even in icy winds, going out in the Tokyo area around New Year’s can warm people’s hearts and light up their souls. Many events that can only be experienced at this time of the year will be happening across the city. Below are some places people of all ages can enjoy visiting whether on their own or with family or friends.
Hamarikyu Gardens offers a demonstration of falconry, Japanese traditional games and photography inside the Tsubame-no-ochaya (Swallow teahouse) on Jan. 2 and 3.
One-hour Japanese falconry performances will be held at the inner moat square twice a day from 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. The park was originally a field exclusively for the Tokugawa shogun’s family to practice falconry. Guests can also enjoy aikido performances after each falconry session.
At the open square, both children and adults can learn about and enjoy playing traditional Japanese New Year’s games such as koma-mawashi (top spinning) and hane-tsuki (similar to badminton, but played with wooden paddles and no net) from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Tsubame-no-ochaya was rebuilt in 2015 to look as it originally did when it was a resting room for shogun. Inside this small house, 24 pieces of kugikakushi, objects that conceal nailheads — in the motif of swallows — are used. It is usually closed to the public, but guests can enter the room to take photos from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Admission to the gardens is ¥300 for adults, ¥150 for seniors aged 65 or over and free for middle school students who live in Tokyo and primary school students or younger. URL: www.tokyo-park.or.jp/teien/en/
Roppongi Hills will be open from New Year’s Day, offering a series of free events, seasonal restaurant menus, as well as sales at about 65 shops, mainly between Jan. 1 and 3.
On New Year’s Day from noon to 3:00 p.m. at the Roppongi Hills Arena, there will be wadaiko drum performances, a shishimai lion dance, and furumaizake, a New Year’s celebratory sake that will be served to the first 200 guests.
On Jan. 2 and 3, people can enjoy trying traditional Japanese games such as kendama (cup and ball) and otedama beanbags as well as watching wadaiko, shishimai and koto performances, and a koto workshop between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m.
A winter sale at the Roppongi Hills complex will start from New Year’s Day for two weeks at about 65 shops, offering discounts up to 70 percent. From 11 a.m. on New Year’s Day until Jan. 3, about 55 shops will sell lucky bags called fukubukuro, each containing bargains on such items as clothes, food and other goods.
Ueno Zoological Gardens
Ueno Zoo will be open from Jan. 2 and a variety of New Year events will be staged on Jan. 2 and 3.
Staff in animal costumes will welcome guests at the Benten Gate from 9:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. and the first 500 visitors on each day can receive a rice cracker with an illustration of a wild boar, the Chinese zodiac animal for 2019. A shishimai lion dance will proceed through the zoo from 11 a.m. to noon.
In front of the five-storied pagoda in the east garden, 200 ema plaques (traditional Shinto tablets made of wood to write wishes on) are available for guests to make original ema with zodiac animal stamps from the zoo, from 2:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Admission for those aged between 16 and 64 is ¥600, ¥300 for seniors (65 and above), and ¥200 for students aged 13, 14 and 15. Children aged under 12 are free of charge. URL: www.tokyo-zoo.net/english/ueno/index.html
Shibamata is a nostalgic neighborhood in Katsushika Ward on the eastern end of Tokyo. The area is best known as the setting for a famous Japanese film series, “Otoko wa Tsurai Yo” (“It’s tough being a man”) directed by Yoji Yamada.
It is the hometown of Tora-san, the main character of the movies who is a warm-hearted, lovable vagabond, always helping others but unlucky in love. The streetscape is preserved just the way it was in the long-running movie series that started in 1969, as if Tora-san was about to storm out of his old house at any second.
Along the main pedestrian shopping street that leads to Taishakuten Temple, many stalls will be set up to welcome visitors from New Year’s Day to Jan. 3, and the local stores that remind one of Tora-san’s world, as well as Taishakuten Temple and the Tora-san Museum, will also be open from New Year’s Day.
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