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Happy New Year’s Eve

what to do on new year's eve in tokyo japan

Balloon release countdown for the new year at Zojoji in Tokyo

“Only” 3,000 balloons are given out for the annual New Year countdown at Zojoji in Tokyo so get there early if you want one. It’s a festive atmosphere so the queue isn’t as bad as waiting in line at, say, the DMV or China’s Tokyo Embassy.

Here is more detailed information on the Zojoji Countdown (増上寺 カウントダウン). It’s all in Japanese, but the key thing to note is that the wish cards are handed out beginning at 8:30 p.m. to the first 3,000 people. At 10:30 p.m. you go back to get your balloon. Get there by 8 p.m. and you should be fine. Arrive after 9 p.m. and your odds of getting a balloon are not so good.

Oji Inari Jinja (王子稲荷神社)



If you are in Tokyo for New Year’s Eve you may find the festivities to be rather tame as most people stay home and watch TV. However, there are several places where there is some action and this shrine is one of them. Oji Inari Jinja is the head Inari shrine of the eight provinces of the Kanto region (greater Tokyo area). On New Year’s Eve, foxes, who are considered to be the guardians and messengers of the god Inari, gather here from all over the Kanto region. There is an annual Oji Fox Parade on New Year’s Eve to honor the foxes that gather here on this night. Everyone dresses up, and it is said to be quite the affair. I haven’t actually been there on New Year’s Eve myself.

I have been in the Tokyo area on two New Year’s Eves. For the first (in 1988) I went to Kawasaki Daishi (川崎大師). For the second (in 2009) we celebrated the new year at Zojoji (増上寺). I would recommend either of those places as well.

Ema from all over Japan

I’m not sure if Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo does this every year or if they just did it for the 2010 New Year, but shrines from all over Japan sent their ema to be on display. Today’s photo is just a small part of the hundreds of ema on display. Many, if not most, featured a tiger since 2010 was the year of the tiger.

Year of the Tiger ema

meiji jingu tokyo japan

Here is a closeup of the tiger (寅) ema discussed in yesterday’s entry.

The stamp on the lower right of the ema is the official one of Meiji Jingu. It says Meiji Jingu (from top to bottom and right to left 明治神宮) in funky script.

Meiji Shrine Gate on New Year’s Day

The south gate is the main approach to the Meiji Shrine. Normally you can walk right up to this point, but on New Year’s Day it may take an hour or more to reach this area from the Harajuku Station. If you want to avoid the crowd, there are other entrances (like from Yoyogi Station, past the archery area and through the west gate).

Notice the giant ema (wooden wish plaques or 絵馬) and arrows (hamaya or 破魔矢) on the gate. The shrine does a massive business in selling smaller versions of these items (and other good luck trinkets) for the first week of the year. Some of these amulets are to be brought back to the shrine the next year and burned. People pay to have this service performed as well. How is that for a business model? Sell your customer something and then charge them in a year to destroy the product. When they come back to have last year’s goods burned, you sell them the same product again for the next year and the cycle repeats. Nice.

For 2010 the giant ema featured a tiger since it was the year of the tiger. I’m guessing that for 2011 a similar ema with a rabbit was on the gate since 2011 is the year of the rabbit.

Meiji Jingu on New Year’s Day

I have braved the New Year’s Day crowds at Meiji Jingu twice in my life–1989 and 2010. The place and number of people don’t seem to have changed. The crowd control measures sure have.

Hatsumode (初詣) is the name of this first shrine visit of the new year. Technically, this wasn’t my first shrine visit in 2010 as I was at Zojoji much earlier in the day.