Christmas and New Year in Japan

The Christmas/New Year period is a popular time for travel in many countries, due to people having time off work. You may want to take advantage of the holiday period to travel to Japan. There are some things you need to know to make the most of a visit to Japan at this time of year.

Christmas is not a public holiday

Christianity is a minority religion in Japan, so Christmas Day is not a holiday and everything will be open as usual.

You will see Christmas decorations such as santas, trees, bells and reindeer in many malls and stores, but very little with a religious theme. There are stunning illuminations which run up until Christmas and often beyond, and these create a festive atmosphere in Japan’s cities.

Christmas is something of a romantic couples celebration, with KFC being a popular meal on Christmas Day. Many people place their Christmas KFC order in advance. There’s also a Japanese version of Christmas cake, a sponge with strawberries and cream.

If you want to celebrate a western-style Christmas, it’s not impossible to find a traditional Christmas dinner. Major western hotel chains often provide this, although reservations are a good idea. If you want to go to Christmas church services, there will be English services in large cities, but smaller centres may not even have a church.

New Year is a major celebration

New Year is a major holiday in Japan, with most people getting a few days off work. They often use this to travel back to their home town, so trains, buses and planes can be busy at this time of year.

There are religious ceremonies at temples and shrines to mark the start of the new year, which symbolises a fresh start. At midnight, temples ring their bells 108 times. Crowds line up for hours during the night at places such as Meiji shrine or Sensoji temple in Tokyo. Temples and shrines will continue to be busy for a few days as people make their first visit of the year.

Countdowns and fireworks are not part of the traditional Japanese New Year celebration, although there are some places that do fireworks, such as Tokyo Disneyland.

Because it’s a major holiday, many businesses close from 1 to 3 January, with shops usually closing just on 1 January. Some tourist attractions may be closed for a few days from as early as 28 December onwards. Check websites for exact closing days for museums, historic sites, restaurants and smaller shops and schedule your activities accordingly. Places that are open, such as larger stores, malls and theme parks, may be very busy with holiday crowds.

Enjoy your visit!

While the seasonal celebrations will have some impact on visitors, some preparation will help you avoid any major difficulties. The Christmas and New Year period can be a very rewarding time to visit and experience a different side of Japn.

Do you have any questions about travelling around Japan? Please feel free to contact me.

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For further information, the ebook Japan Just for You is a practical step-by-step guide to planning your trip to Japan, starting with developing your own personal trip concept. It’s now available on Apple, Amazon and Kobo, and other stores.