If you have yet to decide where to go for the Christmas and New Year holidays, here are a few reasons why you should consider Japan:
1. The snow. As mentioned last week, this year is a special snowflake for the citizens of Tokyo and its surrounding area. The so-called White Christmas *might* just be a reality this year! If you don't feel like betting it on Tokyo only, fear not, as Japan is not wanting in guaranteed snow either. If you are up for skiing, you can come visit anywhere from as near as the Fujiten Ski Resort near Mt. Fuji, to Niseko in Hokkaido where one of the finest powder snow in the world piles. If you are more of a nature person, try including the snow monkeys of Jigokudani in your itinerary. Speaking of which, an onsen bath after a cold snowy day can really define a holiday for you!
2. The illuminations. Japan is not one to put festivities in the back-burner - you just know it when the bright lights adorn the city. Come Christmas, many big urban spots will feature elaborate Christmas illuminations - places such as Tokyo Midtown or Roppongi Hills, or the enchanting Omotesando. There is something masterful about the way the Japanese appreciate the transformation of trees that line their streets. Witness as the beloved plants that have been pink, green, and yellow under the warm sunlight of the past seasons turn into magical nocturnal attractions in December. The evenings have never been more cheerful!
3. The shopping. Naturally, huge sales take place at the end of the year, with bombastic discounts that will appeal to the avid shopper in you! Aside from the many Christmas-exclusive merchandise that you will see around the shops, one of those things you just have to hunt in department stores is the fukubukuro. Literally "lucky bag", the fukubukuro is a bag of mystery - you never know what you will get! Usually the items within will easily cost twice the price the fukubukuro is sold at, meaning you are in for a bargain AND a pleasant surprise. It is a unique custom that you can only experience during the New Year holidays.
4. The New Year activities. The hatsumoude (annual first visit to the major shrines) is a special event you would want to participate in. The Japanese pay their respects and pray for a great year on any of the first three days of the year, during which many major shrines in Japan can attract millions of visitors. But the most exciting moment will happen at the night of Omisoka (New Year's Eve), where you can see people excitedly awaiting for the temple bells to ring 108 times, signaling the countdown to 2017. Unlike in other countries, fireworks are comparatively rarer (you have the whole summer for that noise!), but that makes your New Year countdown all the more special when you manage to catch one!
5. The romance. The Yuletide is not considered a religious holiday in Japan. But while there won't be choirs at your door singing Christmas carols, it is by no means less uplifting or jolly. In fact, it is considered one of the most romantic times of the year in Japan. Whether on an outing to theme parks or at home enjoying osechi (New Year cuisine), Japan has what it takes to make it a special time with your loved ones.
So many things to do and see in Japan this season! If you haven't already, you can still book your tour to Japan to experience all five of the above! If you want an unforgettable holiday, you know where to look. ;)