Traveling to Japan with kids for the New Year’s holiday? This is the time of the year we travel most because it’s easy to take the time off, and it’s so fun to see how other countries ring in the New Year! Japan has one of the more interesting ways to celebrate New Year’s that goes beyond going to bars/clubs or fireworks. It’s packed with kid-friendly traditional customs and gatherings at temples and shrines. Make sure to be part of these activities if you are going to Japan with kids over the New Year’s holiday!
December 31st – Day Time
Clean Slate – Clean & Finish Things Up
It will be relatively quiet all over Japan during the day on this last day of the year. People are cleaning their homes of this year’s clutter so they can ring in the New Year’s on a clean slate. So join in on the fun! You are probably traveling and most likely won’t have to clean your Airbnb or your hotel room, but maybe make it a fun new family tradition to clutter your mind and tasks. What do you want to let go and leave behind in the past?
December 31st – Afternoon/Early Evening
This is when everyone gathers around to have a feast with family and friends. Many people do this at their own homes, but restaurants also have special meals you can try out.
December 31st – Before Midnight
This special soba is called the “Toshikoshi Soba”, meaning “crossing over to the new year soba”. It symbolizes that eating long noodles will give you a long life and help you cross from one year to the next. You can make this yourself or can go eat it at a restaurant. Certain places get packed, so plan accordingly! (Also – many restaurants in Japan do not have highchairs, just a heads up.)
December 31st – Midnight
Head to the Temples! (Hatsu-mode)
One year, when I was younger and without kids, we decided to go to a club in Tokyo for a New Year’s Eve celebration. The entire place was basically empty. Why? Because everyone was at the temples! Lucky for us parents, this is a much better, more kid-friendly option for a NYE party!
There are vendors that sell beers and chu-hai’s (delicious malt liquor in a can) outside of the temples if that’s how you are used to ringing in the New Year. (Or you can go to a nearby convenient store.) Besides that, there are so many delicious food vendors – try something new! There are also pop up game tents – if you see ones where you can scoop up goldfish, you will have to take it home, so plan accordingly. I’m pretty sure you can’t take those on a plane. 🙂
At midnight, there will be a prayer, the temple’s bell will be struck 108 times, and a rush of people who want to pay their respects and make their first prayer. It’s such a fun night! Don’t forget to greet everyone with “akemashite omedetou gozaimasu” with a polite bow, which is Happy New Year! If the temple is small enough, you may be lucky and they might let your kids (or you) ring the bell! This act is said to bring fortune.
Hatsuhinode – First Sunrise
If you happen to get up early because you are still jetlagged or just an early riser – it’s a tradition to go see the first sunrise of the year. Find out where would be a good spot, wherever you are staying!
Otoshidama – Gift for the kids
On New Year’s Day, adults are supposed to give money to kids in a cute little envelope. I’m sure your kids will want this to be a new yearly tradition. 😉
Osechi and Ozoni – New Year’s Feast
Each item has some meaning related to things like longevity, good health, fertility (if you still want that – haha), or joy. It will be fun to explain that to your kids. The spread is so gorgeous, your kids will hopefully enjoy it even though it may be totally foreign to them!
Fly a kite
There are other games kids traditionally play, like badminton like wooden paddles, but flying a kite in the crisp air outside will be a great way to spend your first day of the year in Japan!
What to Say
December 31: “Yoiotoshio” – Have a great rest of the year
January 1: “Akemashite Omedetou” – Happy New Year!