Trip Tips: Traveling in Japan over the New Year

I’m a bit embarrassed to say, but I’ve only ever spent two of the past five New Year’s holidays in Japan. Normally, with my husband able to actually take time off work around those dates, it’s the perfect excuse to either head home to the States (as we are doing this year, for the first time in ages) or travel somewhere new (we’ve done Hawaii and Malaysia in the past … very tropical New Year’s for sure!).

And truthfully, New Year’s is a tough time to be a traveler in Japan. Unlike in some other countries, the New Year celebration here is very family-oriented. You won’t find much going on in the streets on New Year’s Eve (though Kyoto does have a fairly magical celebration where they ring the huge bell at Chion-in Temple at midnight) and the days surrounding the holiday see lots of closures. In fact, below is a list of some of the sites that will be shutting their doors temporarily for the holiday season. (I’m copying them from the JNTO website, which publishes an excellent monthly calendar of events in English, available to download or sometimes available in print at tourist offices in Tokyo and Kyoto).

– “Closing dates for the New Year’s holidays” 年末年始休館日 -
The following Museums are closed during the period mentioned below in ( ) :

Tokyo National Museum (12/24‐1/1)
National Museum of Modern Art , Tokyo (12/28-1/1) & Craft Gallery (12/28-1/1)
Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo (12/28-1/1)
National Museum of Western Art (12/28-1/1)
Edo-Tokyo Museum (12/24-1/1)
Idemitsu Museum of Art (12/16-1/6)
Suntory Museum of Art (12/30-1/1)
Japan Folk Crafts Museum (12/24-1/9)
Japanese Sword Museum (12/16-1/6)
Bridgestone Museum of Art (12/30-1/17)
National Museum of Nature and Science (12/28-1/1)
National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation (12/28-1/1)
The following Gardens and Amusement parks are closed during the period mentioned below in ( ) :
Higashi Gyoen (Imperial Palace East Garden) (12/27-1/3)
Koishikawa Korakuen Garden (12/29-1/1)
Kiyosumi Teien Garden (12/29-1/1)
Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden (12/29-1/3)
Rikugien Garden (12/29-1/1)
Hamarikyu Onshi Teien (Hama Detached Palace Garden) (12/29-1/1)
Ueno Zoo (12/29-1/1)
Tama Zoo (12/29-1/1)

The Tokugawa Art Museum (12/14-1/3)

Kyoto National Museum (12/16-4/21; due to renovation)
The National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto (12/30-1/2, 1/14-3/20; due to renovation)
Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art (12/28-1/2)

Kyoto Imperial Palace (12/28-1/5)
Imperial Villas (12/28-1/5)
Nijo Castle (12/26-1/4)
(Nijo Castle Garden is open from 10 am to 4 pm on Jan. 2-4.
Please enter by 3 pm. Admission is \400.)

Nara National Museum (12/24, 1/1, 1/6 & 1/14)
Nara Prefectural Museum of Art (12/28-1/4)

Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum (12/29-1/1)


Meiji-mura (12/30 & 31, 1/20-24)

Osaka Castle (12/28-1/1)

Himeji Castle (12/29 & 30), open from Dec. 31 to Jan. 15

If you ARE in town over the New Year, one thing you can be on the lookout for are shrine and temple fairs. They usually take place in the last few days of December. Originally, these fairs gave people the chance to come together from all parts of a village or even prefecture to trade goods (clothes, food, utensils) in preparation for the coming year. Now, you’ll find the usually variety of festival food stands as well as vendors selling items to be used as New Year’s decorations at your home (bamboo, tree branches, persimmons, straw ropes, etc – I’ll explain more in my New Year’s post!).



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