Celebrating New Year in Kyoto

Like everything else in Japan, New Year in Kyoto felt completely magical, enchanting and romantic. The people, the food and little things like ATM withdrawals are absolutely fascinating. But strolling around the old parts of Kyoto on New Year’s Eve was a new high for me.

We arrived in Kyoto on New Year’s Eve, having flown from Tokyo to Osaka (KIX) with ANA (which is a member of the Star Alliance, so we booked using EuroBonus points). From there, we traveled by train to Kyoto, which took just over an hour. 

We spent New Year’s Eve itself in Gion, which is an absolutely magical place. It’s filled with old, low-level houses and temples, which makes the whole thing look like a scene out of a movie. We had heard that many restaurants would either be fully booked or closed on New Year’s Eve, so we booked the Celestine Gion Kyoto hotel mainly for its restaurant. Just one problem. The hotel’s restaurant was fully booked. Despite the typically Japanese dedication of the concierge in calling 40–50 restaurants, we ended up spending a little time in the spa, followed by Uber Eats washed down with the minibar’s wine selection. Nice! 

Then we headed out among all the ceremoniously dressed Japanese people. It was an absolutely amazing atmosphere. Everything was quiet and still, with hundreds of bright lanterns and candles. We went to a local temple to watch the Japanese “Joya no Kane” ceremony, which is a kind of bell ringing that cleanses you of the sins and bad karma of the old year and gives you luck for the new one. We found a very small temple, the Yasui Konpiragu Shrine, which (according to the hotel’s bartender) is where most of the local residents go.

Yasaka Shrine. Photo: Shutterstock

We saw in the New Year in style outside another temple, the Yasaka Shrine, which is one of the larger ones in Kyoto, without any fireworks but with thousands of other people. Then we returned to our hotel.

Japanese New Year’s traditions continue on New Year’s Day itself. So we went back to the Yasaka Shrine, which was now adorned with a market, with plenty of street food and candy. There were also little notes giving thanks for luck in love, children, studies and so on. The Japanese call the first visit of the year to the temple “Hatsumode” and an important part of this is prayer. First you put money in a box, then ring a bell, followed by two bows and two distinct handclaps in front of the chest before another final bow. 

After two nights in Kyoto, we were off to Osaka, where we spent one night before continuing on to Bali. But more about that next time…

The non-existent crime in Japan

At a Starbucks on Kyoto’s largest pedestrianized street, I saw a Japanese man reserve an outdoor table by leaving his unattended iPhone X there before going inside to stand in line. Just try doing that in Barcelona.

My planning

We had actually intended to take the train from Tokyo to Kyoto, but New Year is the most important holiday in Japan and getting train tickets for New Year’s Eve a couple of days before was completely impossible. 

A bonus travel tip

Getting from Tokyo to Kyoto by train is easy and relatively cheap. It should only take a couple of hours and cost around SKr1,000 per person. But if you plan to travel more extensively by train in Japan, I recommend buying a train pass. You will need to do this before arriving in Japan, though. 

February 22, 2019

Secret Traveler

Age: 31
EuroBonus level: Diamond
No. of times around the world by air: 20
Total time in the air per year: 1,6 weeks (3%)
No. of countries visited: 34
Most frequent destinations: ARN, LHR/LCY, OSL, DPS
Favorite destination: The Ligurian coast
Never leaves home without: Noise Canceling Headphones (Bose QC35) and Passport

I’m an entrepreneur in Europe with the entire world as my workplace. It’s lucky I love traveling as I spend much of my working day on the move as well as my leisure time - there’s so much to see and new people to meet.

Close map


From the article

Share this tips


Looking for something special?

Filter your search by