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Tokyo In December: Activities And Destinations That’re Worth A Try

What is your first impression of Tokyo in each season? Spring is magnificent with shades of pink, white of cherry blossoms and many other beautiful flowers. Summer is the season for fireworks festivals, and the Obon dance on exciting summer nights. In the autumn, it is easy to see the red of maple leaves on every street, square, on campus and on the dome of temples in Tokyo. So, what about the winter? It seems that the rank of foreign visitors in the winter cannot be compared to that of the other three seasons. It is regrettable that tourists haven’t discovered the uniqueness of Tokyo in December – the first month of winter in Japan. Let’s follow Question Japan to explore those activities and destinations

Top sightseeing spots and activities in Tokyo in December

1. See Tokyo’s Winter Illuminations

Winter illuminations are definitely the top attraction in Tokyo in December. Winter in Tokyo may be cold, and people may want to stay at home and wrap themselves up in the blankets. However, it will be such a pity if you miss the winter illuminations. Strolling downs in the streets or parks or any corners in Tokyo, you are about to be overwhelmed with thousands of lights illuminating locations across the city, in a variety of ways. From champagne-colored bulbs that cover tree-lined streets to creative, modern-styled designs, those beautiful illuminations absolutely warm up your heart in the cold winter day. Moreover, numerous illumination events are going to take place in this December. Look up in the map and find your ways to Tokyo Dome, Tokyo Midtown, Roppongi Hills Arena, etc right now to experience the most brilliant light shows ever.

Tokyo in December

Roppongi Hills Winter Illumination

2. Explore Christmas markets

Christmas is the main holiday and one of the most important nights of the year in Japan. As a matter of fact, shopping for Christmas is a custom. If you are in Tokyo, come by Christmas market in Roppongi Hills. This is is the Japanese version of the famous Stutgart Christmas Market. There are more than 2,000 Christmas-themed items for everyone from German specialties to snowballs and glitter decorations. In addition, the unique souvenirs such as glasses to contain glühwein wine are also discounted for buyers.

Tokyo in December

Japanese version of the famous Stutgart Christmas Market

Besides Roppongi Hills, tourists should visit Tokyo Christmas Market. It lasts 10 days in the campus of Hibiya Park. Tokyo Christmas Market will bring you a long line of delicious food and drink stalls, exquisite craft products and a series of eye-catching stage performances. Moreover, the most noticeable point of this year’s market is the 14m high lighting pyramid directly imported from Germany, the beauty of which surely urges you to exclaim in awe.

3. Visit Shrines and Temples for New Year’s Eve

Oshogatsu (the New Year) is one of the most important holidays of the year in Japan, and the first visit to shrines or temples in a new year is known as “hatsumode”. For Japanese people, going to the temple wishing a happy new year within the first three days of the year has great significance. This is also the opportunity for Japanese people to bring old lucky charms to pagodas or temples, and perform an old-charm-burning ceremony to ask for new charms for next year.

Tokyo in December

The first prayer of the year

With such a sacred meaning, many temples and shrines combine Oshogatsu with Hatsumode. On New Year’s Eve, thousands of people line up at shrines or temples praying for a lucky, happy new year and waiting for January 1st to take part in Hatsumode. The most popular temples and shrines, such as Tokyo’s Meiji Shrine, attract several million people during the three days. Most impressive are such visits at the actual turn of the year, when large temple bells are rung at midnight.

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4. Go ice skating

Ice skating is one of most wintery and festive activities in this season. Although snow hardly falls in Tokyo in December, this city has several outdoor ice skating rinks in a central area to entertain visitors. One of the most popular and newest skating rinks in the heart of Tokyo is Akasaka Sacas. Akasaka Sacas is Tokyo’s newest mixed-use development such as Roppongi Hills and Tokyo Midtown. The winter event “White Sacas” is held annually, and the main attraction is a large ice skating rink at Sacas Square along with several other attractions such as food vendors, light ups and a small aquarium. Ice skating classes are also available for beginners and kids with an additional charge.

ice

White Sacas

5. Go on a food tour

What do you do when visiting a foreign country? Besides exploring tourist attractions, taking part in festivals, sampling the local cuisine is undoubtedly a must. So, what should visitor try when visiting Tokyo in December?

  • Winter in Japan is very cold,  so hot and nutritious dishes are indispensable, especially hotpot. In Japan, people call hotpot “nabemono” ; different types of nabemono use different ingredients. The most commonly used ingredients are chicken, oysters, shellfish, cod, salmon or turtles, among which, chicken is the most favorable.
Tokyo in December

Nabemono

  • In the winter, Japanese families often cook Oden. This dish is quite similar to nabemono but is made by stewing ingredients like white radish, chicken eggs, fish cake, octopus, tofu, konnyaku jelly … and served with sake. This traditional dish differs in flavors, depending on the region and locality.

Oden

  • Ramen is a treat that can be enjoyed throughout the year, but during the cold months it will definitely warm you up. A delicious bowl of noodles is put in miso broth, soy sauce and salt, topped with various vegetables, meat, tofu or eggs.

Ramen

  • Osechi is a traditional Japanese food that is unique to the New Year. This traditional bento originated in the 8th century, and the food in the box has its own meaning. For example, komaboku means the rising sun in Japan, because the shape and color mean joy. Konbu, a type of seaweed, is associated with the word “yorokobu”, which means joy.  In Japanese, black bean is “kuromame” in which, the word “mame” is a homophone, meaning bean and health.

Osechi

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6. Unwind with a Hot Bath or Hot Springs near Tokyo

Communal bathing has been long been a part of traditional Japanese culture. Japanese people in the old days often go to the natural hot springs (onsen) or public baths called “sento” to wash up during the times when many people did not have a bath in their own residence. Even in modern-day Japan, visiting onsen and sento continues to be a pastime of the young and old alike, especially during the cold winter months. Whether visiting a small local sento, or taking a trip to a luxurious hot spring spas, enjoying a traditional Japanese bath is an activity we recommend every visitor coming to Tokyo in December experience at least once.

tokyo in december

Minakami Onsen – Great Hot Springs Near Tokyo

7. Test Your Luck and Buy a “Fukubukuro”

Similar to “hatsumode” – the first visit to the shrines or temples in a year, “Fukubukuro” means the first purchase of the year. At the start of the New Year, Japanese department stores and other shops offer a mystery grab bag filled with various goods. The collection of the goods inside the bag is typically worth a lot more than the actual price. The only catch is that you might not know exactly what you’re getting–but for many, the fun is in the gamble! Although “fukubukuro” is sold in limited number and in only the first day of the year, many people spend hours queuing patiently in front of the stores, just to test their luck. 

japan in december

The first shopping spree of the year

Conclusion

Now, are you ready to spend your very last month of the year in Tokyo? After reading our articles, how do you feel about it? We hope this article helps provide useful information you can use for your trip to Tokyo in December, including the events and festivals in December, and some suggestions. We hope you have a great time in Tokyo!

About Hayami Mori

Hayami Mori is an awesome travel blogger & photographer. She was born and raised in Tokyo and have been here for nearly 25 years. She loves traveling and always wants to introduce her beautiful Japan to travelers from all over the world. Therefore, her blog is a great source of information for people looking for what to do in Japan as well as provides some tips to make their trips unforgettable.