The days surrounding the New Year’s celebrations in Japan can be a little lackluster if you find yourself alone. New Year in Japan is all about the family, and Tokyo suddenly seems to become a ghost town for a few days. After the partying, there are more than a few things going on. Here are a few ways you can ease yourself into the Year of the Horse.
National Museum New Year
To celebrate the arrival of 2013, the Tokyo National Museum is opening its doors early on January 2, with a plethora of activities for the whole family. This exhibition will be centered around the new year’s zodiac sign, the horse, so expect a main display featuring the animal in all of its forms and colors. You can view a variety of traditional performances, ranging from taiko (Japanese drumming) to shishimai (the lion dance), and attend a few lectures (in Japanese only) about the usage of horses in art. January 2–26
More information: www.tnm.jp/modules/r_free_page/index.php?id=1644
We are ever so thankful for the gorgeous T-Site, its collection of thick art books and its “business as usual” philosophy for the New Year festivities. You can browse their extensive collection of books, magazines, films and music while sipping coffee at the first floor Starbucks (or second floor Anjin lounge, if you want an upgrade). And until mid-January, you can even view a photography exhibition featuring the capital from all angles, courtesy of the Tokyo-Ga photography project. The best thing? It’s all free. Until Jan 14.
More information: www.tsite.jp/daikanyama/event/003031.html
For a truly traditional start to 2014, join the thousands of local families in their annual pilgrimage to the local temples and shrines. Whether you go big (think Senso-ji or Meiji-jingu) or local, you’ll find a festival-like atmosphere with food stalls, hot amazake and omikuji, which will tell you your fortune for the year. We recommend to hit the smaller, local spots unless you want to queue up in the cold, but we have to admit that the crowded ones can be the most interesting. From January 1.
More information: www.gotokyo.org/en/tourists/topics_event/topics/111226/topics.html
Along with the January sales come the ubiquitous fukubukuro, which are essentially ‘lucky’ bags—that is, if you’re lucky enough to get a good haul. The mystery bags are randomly filled with assorted products, and one of those most coveted fukubukuro come from Apple. On January 2, the giant retailer starts selling its ¥36,000 lucky bags, which usually contain limited edition t-shirts, headphones and iPods, and sometimes even iPads or MacBook Airs (!). If you’re dedicated enough, prepare yourself to join the queue the night before and spend the night outside to make sure you get your goodie bag—let’s just hope you get a good one.
More information: www.apple.com/jp
Those empty days may be your chance to play tourist in your own city, and take advantage of the non-crowded trains. You can climb Tokyo Tower, see a few of the remaining illuminations around the city, run a 5K around the Imperial Palace, and even catch a peek at the Emperor and his family for his annual greeting on January 2. Many cafes and restaurants are open, so you can relax, read books, indulge on some sweets and delay those New Year resolutions for just a few more days…
Main image: jamesjustin/Flickr