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What to Do in Osaka & Kyoto in January 2024: Experience Japanese New Year Traditions

What to Do in Osaka & Kyoto in January 2024: Experience Japanese New Year Traditions

Date published: 18 December 2023

January, marking the start of a new year, is a significant month for the Japanese as it symbolizes a fresh beginning. Traditional customs, like witnessing the first sunrise of the year and visiting shrines to pray for safety and well-being throughout the year, are commonly practiced. This article will introduce various events taking place in January in Osaka, Kyoto, and across the Kansai region, showcasing these age-old Japanese traditions!

Table of Contents
  1. First Sunrise Events
  2. Hatsumode
  3. Traditional Festivals and Events
  4. Illumination Events
  5. Light Amusement Park – Flowering Illumination (Hirakata Park, Osaka)

First Sunrise Events

Umeda Sky Building - Kuchu Teien Observatory (Umeda, Osaka)

Umeda Sky Building - Kuchu Teien Observatory (Umeda, Osaka)

At the heart of Osaka, in Umeda, lies the Kuchu Teien Observatory atop the Sky Building. The New Year's Visit to the Kuchu Teien Observatory is a celebrated event where visitors can witness the first sunrise of the year from 173 meters above ground.

The observatory opens early in the morning for this special occasion, offering ticket plans that enhance the New Year's experience. These include options like a luxurious Chinese breakfast, Fuka Hire Ramen from a popular Chinese restaurant, celebratory sake, and limited edition New Year's Goshuin-cho (stamp book) as souvenirs. Tickets are exclusively available online and only until sold out.

Watching the sunrise over Ikoma Mountain is sure to provide an auspicious start to the year.

Event Details
・Date: January 1st
・Time: 6 AM - 8 AM (General admission from 9:30 AM to 10:30 PM)
・Location: Kuchu Teien Observatory, Umeda Sky Building
・Admission: From 5,500 yen (varies by plan)


Fushimi Inari Hatsumode (Fushimi, Kyoto)

Fushimi Inari Hatsumode (Fushimi, Kyoto)

In Japan, there are approximately 30,000 Inari shrines, with Fushimi Inari Taisha being the head shrine. It attracts numerous visitors daily from both within Japan and overseas. The endlessly stretching red torii gates create a surreal atmosphere, making it a famous tourist spot.

Typically, from December 31st to January 1st, the shrine's offering hall is open all day, allowing visitors to partake in the first shrine visit of the year. Fushimi Inari Taisha, established in 711 during the Nara period, has a history of over 1300 years. It is known for bringing prosperity to businesses and bountiful harvests, attracting many visitors each year to pray for a good year ahead. From January 1st to 3rd, the area around the shrine buzzes with street stalls, adding to the festive New Year atmosphere.

Additionally, the "Saitan-sai," a ceremony praying for national and personal peace in the new year, is held on January 1st. While it's not an event that general visitors typically participate in, it's a solemn and powerful gathering.

Event Details
・Date: Starting the night of December 31st
・Time: To be determined. Check the official website for details.

Sumiyoshi Taisha Shrine Hatsumode Ebisu Festival (Sumiyoshi, Osaka)

(Photo: PIXTA)
(Photo: PIXTA)

Ebisu, the deity of prosperity and business, is affectionately known as "Ebisu-san" in Osaka. Among the many shrines dedicated to Ebisu, Sumiyoshi Taisha in Osaka stands out for its ancient history, dating back to the Kamakura period (1185-1333).

Sumiyoshi Taisha is renowned as one of Osaka's premier destinations for New Year's shrine visits, opening its doors at 10 PM on New Year's Eve, December 31. During the New Year period, the nearby Nankai Sumiyoshi Taisha Station becomes so busy that express trains make special stops there. Due to the crowds from January 1-3, visiting after January 4 is recommended.

The lively Ebisu Festival, held on January 9 and 10, is another highlight. Prayers are offered at the shrine, and "prayer wood" with written wishes is ceremonially burned, attracting many businesspeople.

Event Details
・New Year's Visit: December 31 - January 6
 - December 31, 10 PM - January 1, 8 PM
 - January 2 & 3, 6 AM - 7 PM
 - January 4 & 5, 6 AM - 6 PM
 - January 6, 6:30 AM - 5 PM

Ebisu Festival: January 9 & 10

Traditional Festivals and Events

Tokaebisu (Nishinomiya, Hyogo)

Tokaebisu (Nishinomiya, Hyogo)

The Nishinomiya Shrine in Nishinomiya City, Hyogo Prefecture, is known as the head shrine of "Ebisu" shrines across Japan, including the previously mentioned Sumiyoshi Taisha in Osaka.

Nishinomiya Shrine, where many people gather to pray for the prosperity of their businesses, hosts the famous "January Ten-Day Ebisu" festival from January 9 to 11, a well-known traditional event in the Kansai region.

During the festival, "Kinsen" (gold spring water) from Arima Onsen, a hot spring area also in Hyogo, is offered to the shrine. This is part of the "Dedication of Hot Spring Water" ceremony, praying for the prosperity of the local hot springs and inns. Another unique and famous event is the "Lucky Man Run," where participants race to be the first to receive blessings. Visiting for New Year's prayers is common, but experiencing the unique activities of the Ten-Day Ebisu is also highly recommended.

Event Details
・Event Dates: January 9-10

Wakakusa Yamayaki (Mt. Wakakusa, Nara)

Wakakusa Yamayaki (Mt. Wakakusa, Nara)

Wakakusa Yamayaki, an annual tradition held on the 342-meter-tall Mount Wakakusa in Nara Park, is set for January 27 (Saturday). This mountain, popular for trekking during the mountain-opening season, draws many tourists.

A winter symbol of Nara, the Wakakusa Yamayaki sees the entire mountain enveloped in red flames, offering a solemn and impressive sight. This practice dates back to the Edo period, originally a response to frequent arson, and continues today as a prayer for fire prevention and peace.

The event starts with a grand fireworks display, followed by the main attraction of lighting the mountain on fire. At the mountain's base, traditional activities like a deer cracker throwing contest and a concert for offerings take place. It's a day filled with various attractions.

Event Details
・Event Date: January 27
・Times: Fireworks at 6:15 PM, Lighting at 6:30 PM
・Venue: Mount Wakakusa
・Admission: Free (additional costs for spectator seats and food booths)

  • Mt. Wakakusa
    • Address 157, Kasuganocho Wakakusa, Nara-shi, Nara, 630-8212
      View Map
    • Nearest Station Kintetsunara Station (Kintetsu-nara Line)
      13 minutes on foot
    • Phone Number 0742-22-0375

Mt. Miune Rime Ice Festival (Mt. Miune, Nara)

Mt. Miune Rime Ice Festival (Mt. Miune, Nara)

The Mt. Miune Rime Ice Festival, centered around the captivating "rime ice" phenomenon seen in the colder months, will take place at Mitsue Youth Travel Village near the base of Mt. Miune, a mountain extending across Nara and Mie Prefectures. The festival is scheduled from January 20 to February 18.

During the festival, visitors can partake in various activities, such as purchasing local products, enjoying 'zenzai' (a sweet red bean soup with mochi), and participating in mochi-making contests. Different events are organized each day, adding to the festival's charm.

A visit to the festival is a perfect complement to witnessing the mystical rime ice on Mt. Miune.

Event Details
・Event Dates: Saturdays, Sundays, and public holidays from January 20 to February 18
・Venue: Mitsue Youth Travel Village
・Time: Noon - 4 PM

  • Mitsue Youth Travel Village
    • Address 1790 Kōzue, Mitsue, Uda-gun, Nara 633-1301
    • TEL: 0745-95-2070 (Mikue-mura Tourist Association)

Illumination Events

Kobe Illuminage (Kobe, Hyogo)

Kobe Illuminage (Kobe, Hyogo)

The Kobe Illuminage, running until February 12, is being held at the Kobe Fruit & Flower Park Osawa Rest Area. This year's theme is "Secret Garden," where visitors can enjoy a dreamlike illumination experience. The highlight is the "Three Major Illumi Palaces," featuring the Pink Palace, Ice Palace, and the newly introduced Arabian Palace, captivating visitors with their elegant and graceful designs.

Additionally, interactive attractions such as a Jurassic maze and a giant illuminating piano that plays sounds when pressed add to the fun, allowing visitors to enjoy while being physically active!

Event Details
・Event Duration: November 1, 2023 to February 12, 2024, open daily
・Event Hours: 5 PM - 10 PM
・Lighting Hours: 5:30 PM - 9:30 PM
・Admission: Adults (ages 13 and above) 1,800 yen, Children (ages 1-12) 1,000 yen

  • Kobe Fruit & Flower Park Osawa Rest Area
    道の駅 神戸フルーツ・フラワーパーク大沢
    • Address 2150 Kami-Osawa, Osawa-cho, Kita-ku, Kobe-shi, Hyogo 651-1522
    • Nearest Station Okaba Station (Kobe Electric Railway)
      15 minutes by bus or cab

Kobe Luminarie (Kobe, Hyogo)

Kobe Luminarie (Kobe, Hyogo)

The Kobe Luminarie event began to commemorate and pass on the memory of the 1995 Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, which primarily affected Hyogo Prefecture. Marking its 29th occurrence in 2024, this year's Luminarie returns after a four-year hiatus due to the pandemic. The special 29th edition shifts its traditional December schedule to January, under the theme "Kobe, the Light Shining Towards the Future."

From January 19 to 28, the Luminarie will illuminate three venues: Higashi Yuenchi Park, the Kitano Ijinkan-Gai, and Meriken Park. These sites will host stunning illumination installations. Additionally, live stages and food booths will be set up, offering a chance to lose track of time and reflect on Kobe's history.

Event Details
・Event Dates: January 19 to January 28
・Time: Dusk to 9:30 PM
・Venues: Higashi Yuenchi Park, Kitano Ijinkan-Gai, Meriken Park
・Admission: Free, with paid areas "Corridor of Light" and "Frontone" (Advance tickets 500 yen, On-the-day tickets 1,000 yen)

Light Amusement Park – Flowering Illumination (Hirakata Park, Osaka)

Light Amusement Park – Flowering Illumination (Hirakata Park, Osaka)

The "Light Amusement Park – Flowering Illumination" is an annual illumination event at Hirakata Park in Osaka, located just a few minutes' walk from Keihan Electric Railway's Hirakata Park Station. This theme park, perfect for family visits, features classic attractions like a Ferris wheel and roller coaster, as well as a small zoo.

Running from November to April next year, the park's 2023 illumination marks its 10th anniversary. This year's theme is "Flowering Illumination," focusing on floral designs. In celebration of this milestone, the event has been renewed for the first time in five years.

The illumination features seven unique areas for the first time in its history, utilizing original "Ensemble LEDs." Notably, the historic debut of the "Tree of Flowers and Fairies," standing at approximately 13 meters, is a must-see. Additionally, over 20 night attractions are spotlighted, including the popular Sky Walker, offering a panoramic view of the illuminated Hirakata Park from about 80 meters high.

Devent Details
・Event Dates: Specific days from November 3, 2023 to April 7, 2024
・Time: 5 PM until park closing
・Admission (Online Purchase): Adults 1,600 yen, Children 900 yen

  • Hirakata Park
    • Address 1-1 Hirakata Koen-cho, Hirakata City, Osaka, 573-0054
    • Phone Number 0570-016-855
    • ・Hours: From 10 AM
      ・Closed: Same as the days the park is closed

Wonder Night Hill 2023 (Minami Osaka area)

Wonder Night Hill 2023 (Minami Osaka area)

A grand illumination event takes place in South Osaka, slightly away from the city's bustling center. The venue, Sakai Green Museum Harvest Hill, an experiential agricultural park, is accessible by bus from Nankai Izumigaoka Station.

Harvest Hill, typically known for interactive experiences with animals, and outdoor activities like athletics, cycling, and go-karting, transforms into a mesmerizing world of lights at night during the event.

The illumination features unique attractions, including 20-meter-tall Sequoia trees adorned with lights, glowing seesaws and chairs, and colorful candy-shaped illuminations. Additionally, moving illuminated figures of cute animals like penguins, polar bears, and mammoths create an ambiance reminiscent of a zoo.

Event Details
・Event Dates: Specific days from October 28 to January 28, 2024
・Time: 5:45 PM - 9 PM (Last entry at 8:30 PM)
・Venue: "Town Area" of Harvest Hill
・Admission: Adults (junior high school students and above) 1,500 yen, Children (ages 4 and above) 800 yen

  • Harvest Hill
    堺・緑のミュージアム ハーベストの丘
    • Address 2405-1 Hachigemineji, Minami-ku, Sakai, Osaka

Osaka Castle Illuminage (Osaka Castle Park)

Osaka Castle Illuminage (Osaka Castle Park)

The Osaka Castle Illuminage is currently being held in Osaka Castle Park. The event takes place in the Nishinomaru Garden, a short walk from the park's entrances near Osaka Metro's Tanimachi 4-chome Station and Morinomiya Station.

The theme for 2023 is "Osaka Historical Illumination – Fully Experience OSAKA." It depicts the city's history, from the tumultuous Sengoku period to the present, using about 3.5 million lights.

The spacious garden, adorned with illuminations, allows for photography with the castle's iconic Tenshukaku (keep) in the background. There are also interactive illuminated attractions, like decorated seesaws, providing an opportunity to play amidst the glowing lights. Previous iterations of the event have featured Osaka-themed illuminations, including retro Osaka gourmet, historical streetscapes, and figures who played significant roles in the city's history, ensuring unique photo opportunities.

Event Details
・Event Dates: November 22 to February 25, 2024
・Time: 5:30 PM - 10 PM (Gates open at 5 PM, last entry at 9:30 PM)
・Venue: Nishinomaru Garden, Osaka Castle
・Admission: Adults (ages 13 and above) 1,500 yen, Children (ages 1 and above) 800 yen

January in Japan is a unique month where visitors can immerse themselves in the culture through traditional activities like the first shrine visit of the New Year or watching the first sunrise. The Kansai region, in particular, is rich in shrines and temples, offering a multitude of traditional events and ceremonies. If you're planning a trip to Japan in January, it's an excellent opportunity to experience and enjoy the New Year culture.

*Please note that the information in this article is as of December 2023. For the latest information, check official websites and local resources.

Written by:

Shiro Tsuchida

Shiro Tsuchida

After graduating from university, Shiro worked with an advertising agency for about a year. Leveraging her experience from a journalism club she was part of during her college days, she began her career as a freelance writer. Based in the Kansai region, she capitalizes on her local insights, writing event coverage and reports spanning genres like art, music, comedy, food, and entertainment within the Kinki area. She also handles photography. Additionally, she focuses on region-specific anecdotes and deep dives into local culture and history. Currently, she regularly contributes articles to more than five media outlets.

*This information is from the time of this article's publication.
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.

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