Travel Postcard: 48 Hours in Tokyo around New Year's

Fri Dec 21, 2012 12:33pm EST
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By Elaine Lies

TOKYO (Reuters) - Tokyo is one of the world's most crowded and bustling cities, but anyone who travels there around New Year's will be able to see a far different face as workaholic Japan takes its longest holiday of the year.

Christmas, which is a normal work day, is mainly a retail event, with Japan devoting all its energy to "Oshogatsu," the New Year period extending roughly from Dec 29 to Jan 3 - the first part in frantic preparation, the second in enjoyment.

Days of dry, crisp cold bring clear air and sharp views of Mount Fuji from many parts of the city, and with most Japanese companies closed and many people back in their hometowns, trains and streets empty out and the capital takes on a laid-back and leisurely air for those who choose to stay.

Reuters correspondents with local knowledge help visitors get the most out of a 48-hour visit.


5 p.m. - Head to "Ameyokocho," one of Tokyo's oldest market streets. Bracketing the raised tracks of the Yamanote Line and running south from Ueno Station on Tokyo's northern side, the area is boisterous on regular weekends but really cranks it up at this time of year as people come shopping for New Year feasting. Just about anything imaginable is for sale here - fish on trays of ice, piled vegetables and fruits. Vendors shout to attract business under bright lights, and pots of food at nearby open-air restaurant stalls steam in the cold.

New Year food is called "Osechi," and housewives prepare enough for the three days from New Year's day so they don't have to do any cooking then. Most foods have symbolic meanings, like simmered black soybeans for good health, and herring roe, which symbolizes a wish to have many children. Many people eat sea bream, whose Japanese name echoes the word "congratulations."

6 p.m. - If you decide not to drop into one of the restaurants under the train tracks for some sticks of grilled meat and a glass or two of hot sake, hop on the Yamanote Line at Okachimachi Station and get off a few stops later at Yurakucho, on the edge of the posh Ginza shopping area.   Continued...

The sun goes down between skyscrapers in Tokyo May 11, 2012. REUTERS/Issei Kato