[JAPAN 2016] 5 Ways to Spend New Year in Tokyo

Ahhh, yes, another last-minute planned trip to Japan.

I find now that I'm getting older, I get a bit more impatient about planning my holidays :P All my previous holidays have been planned a year in advance usually, but all my 2015 travels have mostly been a "spur-of-the-moment-omg-let's-book-that-flight-now-it's-so-cheap!" kind of thing. It's not a bad way to live I guess, but my savings are kind of crying right now.

This trip was brought on due to Sakamoto Maaya, once again. To promote her newest album "Follow Me Up", she held several lives from November 2015 to January 2016. I managed to get tickets to her New Year's Eve show thanks to Maayas.net again, and so I would be spending my New Year's in Tokyo!

What To Do in Tokyo During New Year

Japan-guide has great suggestions on what you can do in Japan during the New Year's celebrations, and will be very handy to plan your trip. NOTE: Some sites and attractions will be closed during the New Year holidays, so do take note of which ones are opened over at japan-guide so that you're not disappointed.

Fair warning: travel activity during New Year within Japan will be increasing, so book any shinkansen seats, hotels, theme park tickets etc. earlier to be safe. Hotels and flights are of course more expensive at this time of the year (as it will be everywhere else around the world).

1. Visit the shrines (Hatsumode)

A popular activity for the locals, where they will pay their first visit at the popular shrines all over Japan on New Year. Yes, it will be extremely crowded - I went to Kawagoe's Kitain Temple on the 3rd of January and it was full of people. Well, part of it may have to do with the fact that there was a Hatsudaishi "festival" going on with food stalls, daruyama and the works - but hey, if you want to experience Japan's culture during the New Year, this should be #1 on your list.

"Oh, well, this doesn't seem so bad," you might say.
...Yep, this was the crowd that greeted us at Kitain Temple #noregrets
A whole lotta daruma in all sizes! The belief is that you fill in one eye to indicate what your goal / aim / wish is for the New Year - when your wish is fulfilled, then you fill in another eye :) It's a great way to motivate yourself, albeit probably a little creepy on account of the no-eyes thing.
My all-time favourite in Japan: takoyaki!

2. Go on Fuji-Q Highland's record-breaking rollercoasters 

I know it sounds kind of weird to go to a theme park on New Year, but honestly what better way to welcome the New Year? :D

Fuji-Q Highland is a 2-hour bus ride from Tokyo / Shinjuku and you can get there by bus or train (the more convenient way would be by bus, which was what we did).

Thankfully when we went, the crowds were either too busy spending time with family outside of Tokyo or they didn't think going on rollercoasters was the proper way to welcome the New Year - either way, most of the rides had an average of 1 hour to 1.5 hour waiting time (the longest wait for us was the 2 hour wait for Dodonpa), which wasn't too bad. You can always buy the express pass, but we opted not to.

Fuji-Q has only 4 rollercoasters, but these are not your normal rollercoasters: Fujiyama is the oldest rollercoaster in Japan (which was unfortunately closed due to strong winds on the day we were there), Dodonpa is one of the fastest rollercoasters at 172km/hr (I couldn't feel my face for the first few seconds, no lie), Eejanaika has a barf-inducing loops while you're falling backwards on the steep coaster track, and Takabisha has the #1 spot of rollercoaster with steepest drop at 121 degrees!

It even has a certificate and everything.
Fuji-Q Highland also has a Haunted House - which apparently lasted for 60min or 900m wth. Tbh I've erased everything about the haunted house once I got out of it, otherwise it will forever traumatize me lol. But yeah, worth it for the experience if you've never been to one or you love being traumatized for life.

You know why I'm traumatized? This is literally what my workplace looks like and now I will forever associate long, dark-lit corridors with the memories of zombies chasing me. Thanks, JM, you owe me an un-scarred brain.

There's also the Ultimate Fort, a labyrinth / maze / escape room kind of game which sounds absolutely fun (anything zombie-less sounds fun!) and supposedly has a success rate of 1/100000 - you might end up being the 1 in a 100,000 ;)

Also, if you're super lucky, you will get an awesome view of Mt. Fuji while you go on all the rides! (We were lucky and managed to see Mt. Fuji the whole day.)

Can you imagine getting this awesome view while you ride on all the rollercoasters? This was the view we had all day. Mt. Fuji was super shy when I was there back in 2014 for the Shibazakura festival
After you're done with all the rides Fuji-Q has to offer, you can opt to go to the awesome onsen nearby (price is of course excluded from the park) to relax before you head back to Tokyo. Or if you so prefer, you can make your way to Kawaguchiko lakes since it's nearby.

3. Go to a cat cafe

Don't judge me, I love cats, okay. Cat cafes are the in-thing in Japan (along with a myriad of other specialized cafes, like owl cafes - honestly it sounds cool and I'd love to go to one), and you can opt to spend 30minutes to 1.5hr with the cats!

Be warned: not all cats will be friendly - remember, cats are our overlords.

Case in point. This cat basically glared at everyone the whole time.
When will my husband return from war.

4. Eat, eat, and eat!

The New Year is the perfect excuse to cheat on your diet for a day or two (or five), and Japanese food will tempt you from all sorts of corners so you might as well give in now.

My ryokan offered an osechi food (Japanese new year meal) for free!
Zouni - tasted better than it looks! Feat. Year of the Monkey.

One of the better eel dish I've tasted
Potato taiyaki! This was so good!!! Had this in Kawagoe

OK this isn't for eating, but lookit how cute!!!

5. Karaoke

...OK, you can judge me a little :P I blame my love for karaoke and singing on my dad (sorry dad, someone's gotta take the blame).

But seriously, Japanese loves their karaoke - you will be able to find countless karaoke chains all over Tokyo! Prices vary depending on the chains you choose, but for the most part you will get cheaper rates if you go during nighttime and/or on weekdays.

For those who are a bit more shy to sing in front of other people, you can always opt for solo karaoke - yep, Japan even caters for solo karaoke-ers! 1kara offers these hitokara rooms, where you get an awesome "pit" for yourself, equipped with professional sound system and microphones! You'll have to bring your own earphones (you can just use any earphones really) or you can rent one at 1kara as well. Bonus: there's a ladies-only floor! Free-flow drinks are available on each floor, but honestly you'll be too busy singing and enjoying yourself to care about drinks.

Et cetera, et cetera

Of course the above is a non-exhaustive list and I don't have the time to list down everything you can do in Tokyo on New Year, but the above should give you an idea of how to occupy your time.

According to japan-guide, you can shop to your heart's content as Japan will have superb sales during the New Year (and you see people lining up for miles starting from NYE nights just to buy the fukubukuro at certain stores), you can choose to go for sidetrips from Tokyo (we went to Kawagoe and had a blast; there's Yokohama, Hakone, Nikko, and so many other places to choose from), or you can just chill around Tokyo and do normal sightseeing should you wish to do so ;)

May 2016 bring in a lot of joy to everyone!