Finding holiday cheer in Tokyo: Our top picks


Staying in Tokyo for the holidays? Whether you’re not feeling the Christmas spirit on this side of the world or not too enthusiastic about experiencing the Japanese version of Christmas, our picks will keep you busy—and hopefully merry.

By Vivian Morelli

1. The Art of Peanuts

This exhibition may make your reminisce about growing up: catch the legendary troupe of characters on the 52nd floor of the Mori Tower, where 100 original works are displayed for the first time in Japan. The exhibition, dubbed “Ever and Never,” is divided into four sections that explore everything from the life of author Charles M. Schulz to the evolution of Charlie Brown, Lucy and Snoopy. Of course, you won’t be able to leave empty-handed after you hop by the gift shop. Why not watch A Charlie Brown Christmas when you get home to end the day?

2. Roppongi Hills

Hit the posh Roppongi Hills for a full evening of seasonal cheer. The spacious architectural wonder offers more than just magical illuminations (we’re tempted to say they’re the best in Tokyo). Until Christmas Day, you can hit the German Market to warm up with some mulled wine and a few sausages, and even pick up some crafty wooden toys. If you’re in for something a bit stronger, Whisky Hills is also going on until that same date, with participating restaurants and cafés around the area. The event couldn’t come at a better time, when a warm whisky coat can enhance that chilly stroll through the illuminations of Roppongi Hills in the cool winter weather.

3. Tokyo Midtown Christmas

Not to be outdone by its neighbor, Tokyo Midtown also offers its own twist on Christmas, perfect for a family day. The luxury complex is all about Santa Claus this year, it seems. Walking through the first floor of the Plaza, you can play the Santa game and find all the hidden Santas—we’re sure the kids will love that one. You can even take a commemorative photos with the iconic character, and gaze at a 4-meter tall tree made of 1,800 piled up Santas. If that’s a bit overboard, head outside to view the gorgeous Champagne glass-shaped illuminated trees.

4. Tokyo Tower Light Up

The most amazing Tokyo landmark (sorry, Sky Tree . . . ) gets all glammed up this season, featuring a glitzy light show until Christmas Day. The tower, ever so stylish, will be wearing red on the first floor, and gold at the top. Tokyo Tower also features a massive Christmas tree (12 meters, nothing less) that blinks to the tune of Christmas carols twice per hour. Even if you’ve had enough illuminations this holiday season, Tokyo Tower is the ultimate Tokyo sight we’ll never tire of. And, did we mention it’s free?

5. Onsen

If you’re lucky enough to get a few days off and want to escape the crowds, you don’t need to go too far. Soak away your stress and worries in one of Tokyo’s natural onsen—yes, Tokyo has hot springs. Just grab two towels, pay the required fee, scrub down and bathe for as long as you want. You’ll emerge refreshed, revitalized and ready to face the holiday frenzy (and Christmas carols on repeat). Click here for our round up of Tokyo’s best onsen.

Soaking in an onsen wonderland
Soaking in an onsen wonderland

6. Whistlebump New Year

As most locals go back to visit their families in all parts of Japan, Tokyo suddenly feels rather empty around New Year. Thankfully, the club promoters have you covered and our pick this year is the Whistlebump New Year countdown party. While this doesn’t equal a wholesome family New Year celebration, it’s certainly is the most decadent, complete with an abundance of top-shelf house and techno, international DJs, live acts, performers, dancers, stunning bespoke visuals and all in the glitz and glamour Nihonbashi has to offer.

7. Run, Run, Run

Stay in shape during the most indulgent season of the year by jogging a few kilometers around the Imperial Palace before work: it’s only 5 km, which is the ideal length for a quick and efficient workout. Dress warm, hydrate, bring your music player and admire the early winter landscape while clearing your mind and getting your heart pumping!

8. Christmas Cake

While we’re still puzzled by the idea of a Christmas cake, if you’re going to eat cake this season, go for quality and authenticity. Our best spot in the city is by far Bella’s Cupcakes, which serves delectable cupcakes (and cakes, too) based on English recipes. If you can’t catch the truck on weekends at National Azabu, drop by the charming shop with a storefront in Shirokane Takanawa, open until December 28. We also love vegan and guilt-free treats from Pure Cafe, a restaurant that proves “vegan” doesn’t have to mean boring. While you’re at it, click here to read all about the best cakes in Tokyo.

9. Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum

If you haven’t had the chance to visit this open-air museum, the holidays may be the best time to drop by. The concept is quite unique as the museum is actually outdoors, and it’s located right in the magnificent Koganei Park, which feels kilometers away from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo. The museum has been relocating and reconstructing older buildings in this wide-open space, and it can feel like stepping back in time. During the holidays, the museum puts on a festive turn by featuring a beautiful tea light display in the garden and some illuminations. The museum looks most magical at nighttime, and you can even sit outdoors in the heated garden and sip on hot cocoa and nibble some usual festival fare.

10. Japanese Cuisine

To celebrate Japanese cuisine being recently recognized as UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage, take advantage of the empty days surrounding New Year to try something typically local. Ditch the KFC chicken and sugary cakes—no one wants to be seen queueing up for that. Even though many places tend to close on the days surrounding New Year, rest assured Tokyo isn’t a ghost town, and there are plenty of options available. To make the experience even more authentic, you can sign up to have a meal with some Tokyoites in town for the holidays—take a look by clicking here.

Main image: micamica/Flickr



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