20 Things to Do on Your Solo Trip to Japan during New Year Eve
No matter how bad a year is for us, the turn of a new year always brings us hope. A few days after Christmas, a new year is like a lingering celebration. While this is the time to spend with your family or catch up with some old friends, the New Year is also the perfect time to start everything afresh. In the hustle and bustle of life, we often lose ourselves. So, what better time to embark on your journey to find yourself again than the beginning of a year.
If you are still undecided on where you want to start, let me tell you there’s no better place than Japan to spend a New Year’s Eve on your first female solo travel. Japan loves its modernity with a touch of tradition, and believe me, that is indeed the perfect way you can welcome a new year.
Whatever you have ever dreamt of doing on a New Year’s Eve, Japan will have it for you. Do you want to eat your way through a new year? Japan has a plethora of delicious dishes for you to try. Are you thinking of washing away all the exhaustion from the past year? A dip in an onsen is your answer. What about watching some fireworks? Japan has it covered. Or maybe you want to go back through the pages of history before stepping into the future? You will be surprised at the options you have for that in Japan.
In short, if you are in Japan to celebrate New Year’s Eve, you won’t be disappointed! The new year or shogatsu is considered very auspicious in Japan and is one of the most important holidays in the country. But if you are spoilt for choices right now, and if you are finding it almost impossible to decide on your plan, let me make you a list of 20 things you can do during New Year’s Eve on your solo travel to Japan.
1. Wish yourself good luck with some auspicious decorations
In most traditions around the world, we see decorations that are supposed to bring good luck, and after a probably harrowing year, you will need loads of it. So why don’t you begin your day looking at some of the decorations in small shops that you find along busy roads in most Japanese cities? You will also find them at most restaurants and hotels around this time. At the doors, you will find the Kadomatsu and shimekazari, where symbolizes prosperity and the other wards off evil. So why don’t you get one for yourself and hang it on the door of your accommodation as a symbol of putting the past behind and moving ahead?
2. Visit the Hagoita market
Apparently, once upon a time in Japan, a sport called hanetsuki was played during the new year. It was a very unpolished version of what we know today as badminton. The wooden panels that were used to hit the shuttlecocks were called Hagoita. Today the sport is no longer played on New Year’s Eve, but colourful Hagoitas are now considered to ward off evil. On New Year’s Eve, visiting a Toshi no Ichi or a year-end market to admire decorations on hagoitas is something you can consider. Try out the market at Sensoji Temple ground in Asakusa Tokyo.
3. Buy a Japanese new year card
I don’t know about you, but as a kid, I loved buying cards for different occasions and distributing them. As we grew up and our world was replaced by technology, things changed. But if you are in Japan on New Year’s Eve, why don’t you revive a childhood tradition. Buying cards in Japan is a tradition, and the cards are called Nengajo. Buy cards and post them to your friends and family all over the world. I am sure they will be touched by the gesture.
4. Watch traditional Japanese shows
In every culture, television plays a part. I am sure some shows that you watched in your childhood bring back fond memories now. In the same way, Japanese people love their Kouhaku Uta Gassen, a show that is played on TV every 31st December. It can be described as a musical battle between two teams, and while the songs are definitely in Japanese, you can always appreciate the melody. But yes, you can only watch this if you are staying at a place which has a television.
5. Watch some bunraku theatre
If you happen to be in Osaka during the end of the year, do try and watch a traditional bunraku show on New Year’s Eve. An art form originated from the city’s golden age, watching a bunraku show should be on the list of things to do in Japan on New Year’s Eve. Even if you have watched a puppet show before, let me assure you that bunraku is not just that. The best thing is knowing the Japanese language isn’t a must to enjoy this. Big puppets are dressed in bright and colourful clothes, and the story is relayed through loud music and rhythmic chanting.
6. Spend your day at Universal Studios
On the last day of the year, wake up your inner child and visit the Universal Studios in Osaka. Hug Shrek, shake hands with Mickey, dance with the minions. What can be better than this to welcome a new year? The USJ is a must-visit if you are spending New Year’s Eve in Japan as a solo female traveller. Take the rides, drink some butterbeer while wearing some robes from Harry Potter, and even shoot some webs like Spiderman. Remember to book your tickets well in advance before going.
But if you happen to be in Tokyo on 31st December, you can also check out Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea.
7. Engage in some Hatsumode
While in Japan, do as the Japanese do. Yes, I know that’s not how the saying goes, but it is indeed a good idea to immerse yourself in the Japanese experience. During the new year, many Japanese visit temples and shrines that are dotted all over the country. They even have a nice name for this spiritual experience: Hatsumode. If you are in Japan over the new year, it is always a good idea to visit a temple or shrine at the stroke of midnight and praying for a better future.
8. Pound some mochi
If you are in Japan, you cannot escape the country without trying out some mochi. It is rice beaten up into a paste and filled with rice bean paste. It is just heavenly, and they come in different flavours. If you are visiting Japan during the cherry blossom season, I would suggest that you try out the sakura mochis. They are just delicious.
But the process of making mochi is extremely interesting. The traditional pounding of rice is like a choreographed activity, and trust me, I find it extremely therapeutic. You can also try your hand at pounding some mochi and then eating the fruit of your labour!
9. Drink your night away
Is it even the new year if you don’t welcome it without a drink? You must absolutely visit the Piss Alley in Tokyo. Don’t be alarmed. The name has got nothing to do with the place. It is located near Tokyo’s Shinjuku, and it will remind you of Tapas bars in Spain. The best thing to do here is bar-hopping, where you can enjoy this place to the fullest.
Are you someone who likes to do everything in an unconventional manner? Then this is just for you. If you are in Kyoto on New Year’s Eve in Japan, why don’t you experience one of the oldest Japanese traditions? Depending on how much you are willing to spend, you can opt for walks, be part of a tea ceremony and even have dinner with a maiko.
11. Picnic in a park
Unfortunately, most things in Japan remain closed on the last day of the year, but you can always plan a picnic for yourself in one of the innumerable gardens all over the country. Pack a cute lunch, or grab a bento box, a sheet, and a book. But be sure to dress in warm clothes because there can be a sudden drop in temperature.
12. Indulge in some Osechi
As a country that is as obsessed with delicious food as Japan, it is no wonder that they will have food dedicated to the new year. A tradition that started in the Haein period in Japan, Osechi is like a bento box called jubako with food made exclusively for the new year. Also, the lobster in the box is to die for!
13. Watch the countdown
The best part of a new year celebration in any country is always the countdown. Japan, too is no different. Major cities all have their own countdown party, but nothing compares to the one on one of the busiest streets in the world: Shibuya crossing in Tokyo. If you are in Tokyo celebrating New Year’s Eve, make sure to turn up at the crossing weel in advance because traffic shuts at around 9 in the evening, and the streets start filling up.
14. Get your own lucky bag
What is a new year without some shopping, and if you are in Japan during this time, be sure to get your hands on some Fukubukuro. This is basically a lucky bag where you get unknown bargain items from different stores, and the lines in front of some shops are extremely long. But trust me, it’s worth the wait because the deals are some of the bests you can find.
15. Some matcha for you?
The tea ceremony is a culture you have to experience when you are in Japan on New Year’s Eve. The ceremony called sado is almost like a ceremony at a temple. You first cleanse yourself by washing your hands. Then you are made to sit on a traditional tatami floor while the tea maker dressed in a kimono begins making tea and transcending it to an art form. People have divided opinions about matcha as a flavour, but it makes the experience special nonetheless.
If there is another new year tradition followed in Japan and I am sure you will absolutely love is eating Toshikoshi Soba around this time. These buckwheat noodles are light and delicious, and easy to digest. This is generally eaten on New Year’s Eve in Japan just before the Japanese people leave for temples and shrines. I was told that the long strand of the shoba symbolized the passing of one year and stepping into another. But whatever it may be, this is indeed a delicious tradition.
17. Fast food with a twist
When we travel to Japan, we eagerly look forward to eating all the local delicacies Japan has to offer. But in the process, we miss out on fast food. Around the new year, most traditional restaurants in Japan remain closed, so it’s time to engage your palette in places like KFC, McDonald’s, and the like. If you think that it is a waste because you already know how it tastes, you are wrong. These fast-food chains get a Japanese twist, and it becomes a fancier version of the original. So, you get a teriyaki burger at McDonald’s, put shrimp and avocado in a sub at Subway, and order a really tasty panko fried salmon sandwich at a KFC. If this doesn’t make your day, I don’t know what will.
18. Vending machine
There are times when we are travelling to Japan on a budget, and even if you are not, you have to try out the food at the vending machines in Japan if you are there on New Year’s Eve. First, the options you get at vending machines are absolutely unbelievable. Secondly, it saves you time because you just eat it right there. But remember to dispose of the wrapper in a bin before leaving.
This is probably one of the best things I did during the new year in Japan. At the stroke of midnight, when people are busy letting go of the old and welcoming the new, the bells in all the Buddhist temples and shrines around the country toll at the same time, producing a sweet chime that is almost meditative. No matter where you are, you hear the bells tolling, and you know a new year has come.
The first sunrise of the new year is an auspicious experience for the people of Japan. And it is indeed a very surreal experience that you absolutely must try if you are in Japan on New Year’s Eve. Try and see which is the best vantage point near you to watch the sunrise. You can also try the observation deck. A new day has come.
There are so many options you can choose from if you happen to be in Japan during the new year. So don’t even think twice before packing your suitcase and booking your tickets for celebrating the new year with a twist.
What is your favourite thing to do on New Year’s Eve in Japan?
An introverted blogger who is looking to make unforgettable solo travel memories with one short life.