The first sunrise of the new year represents a chance for a new beginning and so it’s hardly surprising that some once viewed the first rays of the sun on Jan. 1 with special reverence. It was believed to be the moment that Toshigami, god of the new year, descends from heaven and bestows happiness on all the common folk below for the year ahead.
It’s unlikely that those who get up before dawn on Jan. 1 these days are going to be thinking much of gods descending from above. However, the first sunrise of the year (called hatsuhinode in Japanese) is still viewed as a special occasion and families throughout the country will be planning on traveling somewhere special to watch as day breaks.
There are hundreds of locations nationwide that claim to offer jaw-dropping views of hatsuhinode each year. Many temples and shrines prefer to take a religious approach, welcoming the new year with special events and rituals. People also visit more remote places such as mountaintops or coastlines across Japan in a bid to draw inspiration from the majesty of nature, while others still travel to more developed surroundings such as amusement parks or buildings.
We’ve compiled a selection below of a few spots throughout the country that are famous for their sunrises. Visit us online via The Japan Times homepage or on our social media sites to let us know your favorite hatsuhinode locations.
Taking the wheel
Kasai Rinkai Park, Tokyo
Located inside Kasai Rinkai Park, the Diamond and Flowers Ferris wheel is the country’s largest Ferris wheel, and it will be running all night and into the early morning on Dec. 31 and Jan. 1.
This yearly New Year’s event, titled “Diamond & Flowers Countdown,” gives visitors a once-in-a-year chance to take a midnight Ferris wheel ride and see the stars. In addition, there will be live entertainment starting at 11 p.m., as well as a countdown just before midnight. Kasai Rinkai Park itself is located on the waterfront, so it’s the perfect place to get an oceanside view of the first sunrise of the year, even if riding a Ferris wheel isn’t all that appealing. It’s one of the few places easily accessible by public transport from central Tokyo that provide ocean views and, because the park is so large, there’s no need to worry about crowds obstructing your view. In the Kanto area, the new year sunrise is expected to take place at 6:50 a.m.
Kasai Rinkai Park is accessible from Kasai Rinkai Koen Station on the JR Keiyo and JR Musashino lines. There is paid onsite parking, which may fill up throughout the night. Entrance to the park is free, as is the entertainment, but Ferris wheel rides cost ¥700. The park is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The Ferris wheel will be operating from 10 a.m. on Dec. 31 to 8 a.m. on Jan. 1. www.senyo.co.jp/kasai
Miura Beach, Kanagawa
The Miura Peninsula is famous for its beaches and, because it is a peninsula, it’s an ideal spot from which to watch a sunrise or sunset. Every year at Miura Beach, on the eastern coast of the peninsula, the tourism association organizes a hatsuhinode event featuring soup made from local produce, a lottery and mikan (Japanese mandarin) throwing. A taiko drum performance is scheduled to start just as the sun rises, embracing the religious aspects of the occasion. Free soup and a lottery will begin at 5:30 a.m., which will be followed by two taiko performances — the first at 6 a.m., the second at 6:50 a.m. — to welcome the sunrise. Mikan throwing is scheduled to be held at 7 a.m., giving participants an opportunity to try their New Year’s luck and win some locally grown citrus.
If you are on Miura Peninsula from the day before, watch the last sunset of the year at Hayama Beach on the western coast of the peninsula. On a clear day, you can see the sun set behind Mount Fuji.
Miura Beach is accessible from the Keikyu Kurihama Line from Miurakaigan Station, with the first train arriving well before sunrise. Paid parking is available but, as with all beaches on the Miura Peninsula, it can get very crowded. bit.ly/NY-miura
One of the northernmost places to view the sunrise in Japan is Cape Nosappu on the Nemuro Peninsula, the most eastern part of Hokkaido.
The Nemuro City Tourism Association organizes a yearly sunrise viewing event at the historic Nosappumisaki Lighthouse, designed by the so-called father of Japanese lighthouses, Richard Henry Burton, who designed 26 lighthouses during the Meiji Era (1868-1912). Starting from 5 a.m., coffee and tea will be served free of charge, while the local delicacy, crab soup, will be available for purchase. At 6:20 a.m., there will be a local folk taiko performance. The sunrise is expected at 6:49 a.m.
The lighthouse at Cape Nosappu is accessible by bus from Nemuro Station. Special buses are organized for Jan. 1, with a bus departing from 5:30 a.m. from Nemuro Station. The return bus departs from Cape Nosappu at 7:20 a.m. Public parking is also available.
Yoshimine-dera is a temple established in 1029 on the western hills of Kyoto overlooking the city. Here, you can watch the sun rise from behind the majestic Higashiyama mountain range, illuminating 400-year-old temple buildings.
After sunrise, the temple will be open for guests to participate in hatsumode (the first temple visit of the year) and pray for a good year ahead.
Omamori and other good luck items will also be available for sale. Afterward, participants are advised to head down into the basin and enjoy the New Year’s festivities throughout Kyoto.
For those who want a Kyoto hatsuhinode in the center of town, the Kyoto Tower will be open early for sunrise viewing. The new year sunrise in Kyoto is expected to take place at 7:05 a.m.
Yoshimine-dera is accessible via Hankyu Bus #66, but the bus does not run early enough to catch the sunrise. Take a taxi or drive your own vehicle. Parking is available for ¥500. Entrance to the temple is ¥500. The temple will open at 6:30 a.m.
Start planning for next year’s sunrise
The best place to view the sunrise in Tokyo is high above the streets, where you can see out past the urban sprawl all the way to Mount Fuji or the Pacific Ocean. Many of the landmark buildings that dot the Tokyo skyline have special hours for the new year. Because Tokyo is nothing without its incessant crowds and lines, these sites can become extremely crowded. Many places implement a lottery or advance ticket sale system for the first sunrise of the year. While these lotteries or advance ticket sales have probably ceased this year, you can always start planning ahead for 2019.
Tokyo Skytree is open from 5:30 a.m. on Jan. 1 and features New Year’s performances and special limited-edition gifts. They issue 892 tickets each year via a lottery system, which runs for two weeks from around the third week of November.
On a clear morning, you can see the sun rise — and Mount Fuji — at Tokyo City View on top of Roppongi Hills, which distributes tickets via a lottery during the first two weeks of December.
Similarly, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government opens its building observatories early on Jan. 1 for 600 people. In order get some of these free tickets, you’ll need to send a postcard in by around the first week of December to be part of the lottery.
While not a skyscraper, Tokyo Disney Resort sells an all-night passport that gives you access to rides, events and special New Year’s food, as well as a seaside hatsuhinode. Tickets can be purchased in advance in October or November.