According to both Shinto belief and Buddhist tradition, Toshigami—the god of the new year, harvests and the spirits of ancestors—arrives when the sun rises on New Year’s Day. If you stand outside and make a wish during the sunrise, you will be blessed by Toshigami and your dream will come true during the year to come.
Called “hatsuhinode” in Japanese, witnessing the first sunrise of the New Year is similar to other Japanese New Year traditions like hatsumode, the first shrine visit of the New Year, and hatsuyume, the first dream of the New Year. If you hadn’t guessed, the Japanese word “hatsu (初)” means “first.”
Whether or not you believe your wish for 2020 will come true, seeing the sunrise on New Year’s Day in Japan is indeed something magical, and probably a “first” in Japan for many foreigners!
While some say that the view of the dawn from the summit of Mt. Fuji is the absolute best place for hatsuhinode, it’s worth noting that January is outside of the official climbing season, absolutely freezing and also quite dangerous—so maybe not the best idea unless you have someone very experienced to guide you.
Happily, for us mere mortals not keen on hiking all the way up Mt. Fuji on New Year’s Eve, there are lots of incredible places to see it all across Japan that are much easier, and safer, to access.
Here are our top picks for where to see the first sunrise of 2020 in Japan.
1. Tokyo Skytree, Tokyo (Sunrise 6:46 a.m.)
It’s the tallest tower in the world and during its special Jan. 1 opening hours (5:30 to 7:30 a.m.), 940 lucky visitors can enjoy taking in the sight of the first sunrise over Tokyo from the tower’s 350-meter-high observation deck (Tembo Deck). Tickets cost ¥7,000 but grant full access to the facility. The majority of spots on the entry list are chosen by lottery, which has now finished for 2020.
But there are still a limited number of tickets available on the day for ¥8,000. The ticket counter opens at 4 a.m., though we’d suggest heading there a few hours before to secure a spot. Last year, Skytree also ran a campaign where if you added Tokyo Solamachi on LINE before December 28 you could be in with a chance to win a pair of tickets. It’s likely that a similar giveaway will happen this year, though it hasn’t been announced yet. Keep an eye on the Solamachi campaign page for details.
For the event, you should dress somewhat more formally than you otherwise might—it’s not a black-tie affair but it is better to err on the side of formality. There are often women and men in fine kimono that gather here, so wearing pajamas is probably a bad idea, even if you have stayed up all night.
If you don’t manage to get your hands on a ticket, you can still visit the Skytree area in the early hours and enjoy the sunrise from the banks of the Sumida river as well with the Skytree in the background.
2. Mt. Ryugatake, Yamanashi Prefecture (Sunrise 6:55 a.m.)
If you can’t be on top of Mt. Fuji why not look out at it from another nearby mountain? Mt. Ryugatake, a.k.a “Dragon’s Peak,” only takes an hour or two to climb from its parking area and grants visitors a 360-degree view of Suruga Bay, the Izu Peninsula, Yatsugetake and the Southern Alps, plus the exclusive views of Diamond Fuji for which its most famous: At New Year, witness the sun sit atop Mt. Fuji like a diamond in a ring.
Make sure to dress for the weather—a heavy coat and layered clothing, winter-quality hiking boots, a hat and mittens or gloves are a must. You may also want to bring extra kairo (pocket warmers) too, just to be on the safe side.
3. Yoshiminedera Temple, Kyoto Prefecture (Sunrise 7:05 a.m.)
Located in western Kyoto, Yoshiminedera Temple stands on Nishiyama, overlooking the city. Famous for its five-storey pagoda and its appearance in the Hollywood movie, Memoirs of a Geisha (the scene where little Chiyo gives away the Chairman’s coins), here you can enjoy the sight of the sun rising over the horizon with the temple to your left.
It’s a popular photography spot though, so if you want to get the best view, arrive early. Make sure to wear proper hiking boots, too, as the hillside steps can be a bit slippery if you’re not careful.
4. Goryokaku Tower, Hakodate, Hokkaido Prefecture (Sunrise 7:04 a.m.)
The star-shaped, five-pointed fort in Hakodate is another great place to see a truly Japanese sunrise, especially from Goryokaku Tower, which overlooks the fort and the city of Hakodate. Although it’s a popular cherry blossom spot in the spring, Goryokaku is breathtakingly beautiful when covered in snow, and as the sun rises, it becomes a sparkling panorama of light. The tower observatory does have limited space, so they recommend arriving early and getting in line if you want a prime viewing spot inside.
Admission for hatsuhinode may vary, so pay attention to any signs present when you arrive. It should go without saying, but as this spot is in Hokkaido, you should dress for the weather.
5. Manazuru Hanto, Ashigarashimo, Kanagawa Prefecture (Sunrise 6:51 a.m.)
I had to include this spot—it’s my favorite and one that I visit whenever I can for hatsuhinode. Part of the Manazuru Hanto Prefectural Natural Park, from the cape you can watch the first sunrise of the year appear between the Mitsuishi, or sacred rocks off the coast, where the sun rises right over the shimenawa (sacred rope) that connects these massive rocks.
Be prepared though as this spot is exceptionally popular with the locals, so you should plan to arrive around two to three hours early if you are coming by car, and make sure to dress warmly. The ocean breezes from here make it feel as though it is 20 degrees colder than it really is on particularly windy days, so check the weather forecast before you go.
6. Owarifuji Omiyasengen Shrine, Inuyama, Aichi Prefecture (Sunrise 7:01 a.m.)
Owarifuji Omiyasengen Shrine is not a very famous shrine (I only heard about it from a friend of a friend recently), which makes it an idyllic spot to view your hatsuhinode if you happen to be in Aichi Prefecture. Located on the top of Mt. Owarifuji, here you can enjoy 360-degree views of the countryside as well as the first sunrise of 2020. Owarifuji Omiyasengen Shrine is dedicated to gods related to children, so it’s also a popular hatsuhinode spot for families with kids too.
Plus, if you are looking for an activity to enjoy after your first sunrise of the year, Meiji-mura, an open-air architectural museum featuring over 60 historical buildings from across Japan (including the reconstructed main entrance and lobby of Tokyo’s old Imperial Hotel designed by Frank Lloyd Wright), then this is the perfect spot for you.
7. Umihotaru Parking Area, Kisarazu, Chiba Prefecture (6:50 a.m.)
A parking area might not sound like the perfect place to see the sunrise, but this is no ordinary parking area. Umihotaru PA is located on the Tokyo Wan Aqua-Line Expressway which connects Kawasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture and Kisarazu, Chiba Prefecture.
The Aqua-Line is the fourth largest underwater tunnel in the world, but that’s not what makes Umihotaru so incredible. The fourth and fifth floors of Umihotaru have full viewing decks where visitors can enjoy 360-degree views of Tokyo Bay. If you want to really soak up the first sunrise of 2020, then this is the perfect place to do it. And if you’re really lucky, you’ll be able to see Tokyo Skytree and Mount Fuji from different sides of the viewing decks too.