Rather than just hoard these notes to myself, I might as well put them on the blog. It would have been useful for me to read something like this before this short trip… though we were so busy preparing other things that I didn’t do much (enough) preparation…
Tokyo is an interesting place to spend New Year’s. There aren’t any fireworks, nor any particular activities on New Year’s Eve itself. Many Japanese families stay home watching a famous music program! We ended up just walking around and being back at our AirBNB by midnight. I think it might have been fun to see how crowded the Meiji Shrine would be… but we weren’t brave enough this time.
I would also plan, on another occasion, to stay AFTER New Year’s rather than arrive a few days before. Why? Because the sales start on 2 January, and shopping in Japan is awesome!
My big recommendation for New Year’s Day is to take a short train ride out of Tokyo and climb Mount Takao. It was absolutely beautiful, with a clear view of Mount Fuji. We chose a hard trail up, without too many people, but on descent joined for a while the busiest (and easiest) pathway, which was lively with food stands, and the wonderful shrine with everyone doing their New Year’s offering. It was a great thing to do, and felt very special.
As a treat, we went overnight to Shima Onsen where we stayed at Kashiwaya Ryokan, a family-run ryokan with private onsens (many have public ones only) including a great one in our room! They also spoke English pretty well and had a great level of communication. I think staying in a traditional Japanese inn (with hotsprings, amazing multi-course dinners and breakfasts, and rooms with tatami mats and futons) is a must for a trip to Japan. But it can be hard to organise and communicate with the owners. Kashiwaya Ryokan did a great job of this.
Other tips from this trip:
- Arriving in Japan is so simple these days, and while they ask for a full address of where you’re staying, I’m not sure they pay that much attention these days.
- The Narita Express seems easiest and cheapest to get into town, JPY4000 return. It takes a while though; we waited an extra half an hour to get the one that goes directly to Shinjuku, and then the trip took nearly an hour.
- If you’ve got a moment at the airport, grab a 3 day (or 1 or 2 day) Tokyo Subway ticket. JPY1500 for 3 days is ridiculously cheap. But you can only buy them at limited locations: the airports, and the BIC camera chain. We got them at a BIC store easily, though I think I would have liked to have gotten them at the airport when we came in.
- Staying in Tokyo during the holiday season could be expensive… but we found an AirBNB, conveniently located, and adorable, at what I think would be cheaper than hotels.
- If you find yourself awake early in the morning (flying from Canada, this worked perfectly), why not go to the Tsukiji fish market for the freshest most amazing sushi ever? We arrived on 30 December at 7am to huge lines at the most popular places (Sushi Daiwa, Sushibun etc) but found a modest place next to Sushibun, with only half an hour wait that was… amazing.
- On New Year’s Day, there are actually a number of stores open, though most sales start the next day.
Other than that? We had some great Japanese curry at fast food places, and also enjoyed the wrap your own sushi bought from 7-11’s (onigiri). I was happy to bring back some sake (so cheap in Japan compared to buying it in Australia!) as well as some matcha (green tea) kit kats. Enjoyed the visit to the Meiji shrine and though the trip up Skytree was worth it. Loved shopping in Shibuya. Went to two branches of my favourite store Ragtag (designer resale). A nice meal in Ebisu. Wanted a little more time, as we missed shopping in Shinjuku, wandering around the high fashion street in Aoyama, seeing the Harajuku girls, or managing to book into a really fancy restaurant, though the neighbourhood restaurant specialising in eel that our friends took us too was pretty memorable.