I’ve been to many celebrations of the New Year around the world, including Paris and my home town, Sydney. Last year I celebrated New Year in Tokyo, Japan. Considered one of the great cities (or at least one that always makes the world clocks list in vintage newspaper offices), New Year takes on a different flavour in Tokyo to other places I’ve visited. As always, it’s a time for reflection and renewal.
In Asakusa, the New Year is rung in with the shrine bell at Senso-ji Shrine. Thousands of Japanese line up to be the first to pray for their wishes to come true. Security looks after the eager temple-goers until the gate is released at midnight. If you’re not interested in joining the queues, you can watch the festivities from the side, a great vantage point for tourists.
New Year in Tokyo is a different experience to the heady fireworks displays of Sydney. The most beautiful expression of these hopeful wishes is in the prayer cards that hang outside shrines – amongst the thousands written in Japanese, you can sometimes catch a glimpse of a message in your language, sometimes wishing for the health of a loved one, or the happiness of their future. It’s a small window into the dreams of another; I always find myself drawn to these cards again and again.
Around the temple there are hundreds of snack stalls, with a selection of Japanese street food like noodles and okonomyaki, along with some more interesting options such as chocolate coated bananas and kimchi potatoes. People shoot arrows at bullseyes and play games with their children as they wait for the midnight hour. Lanterns and signs string the alleys leading to the temple, usually a busy tourist market, the roller doors now closed.
How to get to Senso-ji Temple in Asakusa, Tokyo
The best way is to catch the subway to Asakusa train station – there are three different lines that stop here, so you’ll have no problem getting to the area. The directions are well signposted, walk away from the river and up the main street until you see the red gate with the giant lantern. The riverside is well worth a look if you’re in the area.