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14 Things to Do in Tokyo in December

The illuminated city, fireworks, a parade of mythological foxes and a tribute to samurai heroes. Fancy the plan? Then let's go to Tokyo in December, which has all that to offer... and much more!

Nicolas Reffray

Nicolas Reffray

10 min read

14 Things to Do in Tokyo in December

Tokyo in December | ©Manish Prabhune

December in Tokyo is usually a very sunny month with little rainfall, making it the ideal time to enjoy this wonderful city. Although at this time of the year the days are shorter, the country is preparing to receive the Christmas and New Year's holidays, so it is worth having the experience of this incredible conjunction of Eastern and Western culture.

The city is very diverse, and therefore there are many things to do and see in Tokyo, this time I will tell you the best to enjoy in the last month of the year.

1. Enjoy the illuminated night in the city

Tokyo illumination in December| ©nakashi
Tokyo illumination in December| ©nakashi

From late November to early December, the city of Tokyo is dressed with the best lights. Shopping malls, stores, streets and avenues display the best light decorations in this last part of the year. So if you want to take a tour of Tokyo, it may be the perfect time.

The main street of Tokyo is the Marunouchi, whose trees are illuminated in a characteristic golden color that highlights its beauty even more. Also featured in this light show are the displays in Omotesando, Roppongi Hills and Tokyo City Station.

The Yomiuri Land amusement park adds to this splendid tradition of light displays with its unique gemstone-themed light show.

Book a tour of Tokyo

2. Experience the Filipino Festival in Tokyo

Philippine Festival in Tokyo| ©Shoji
Philippine Festival in Tokyo| ©Shoji

During December in Tokyo, you have the chance to transport yourself to the Philippines and immerse yourself in its culture thanks to the Filipino Festival held every December 3rd at Yoyogi Park in the city of Shibuya.

This is a celebration and a tribute from the Japanese to the Filipino culture, as there are more than 30,000 Filipino citizens living in the city of Tokyo, and this is the festival that year after year makes them feel at home. Performances, dances and parades are some of the many things you can enjoy in this festival. In addition, you can taste the typical foods of the Filipino gastronomy, among them pork dishes and their traditional beers.

And to continue in the same vein you can take a guided gastronomic tour in Tokyo to get to know in depth the best of Japanese cuisine.

Book one of the best food tours of Tokyo

3. Discover the incredible Mount Fuji

Famous view of the Pagoda with Mount Fuji in the background|©DyL_foto
Famous view of the Pagoda with Mount Fuji in the background|©DyL_foto

Visiting Mount Fuji is visiting one of the emblems of Japan and therefore you can't miss it, no matter what time of the year you visit the island. But the good thing about going in December is that you will be able to see the snow-capped mountain, a beautiful sight.

And not only that, you will also have the option to see something that only happens between December and April, the Fuji Diamond. At sunset and sunrise the sun and the peak of the mountain meet and the mountain seems to shine like a diamond, something incredible.

It is the highest peak in the country and is considered sacred since ancient times. I'm sure you have a thousand images of this beautiful stratovolcano in your head, but there's nothing like seeing it in reality.

Book an excursion to Mount Fuji

4. Don't miss the best viewpoint in Tokyo

Tokyo Skytree|©Radek Kucharski
Tokyo Skytree|©Radek Kucharski

Tokyo Skytree, also formerly known as New Tokyo Tower, is a telecommunications tower that also doubles as a restaurant and observation deck.

It is the tallest building in Tokyo since 2010 and therefore offers the best views of the capital. That is why it receives many visitors a day, but you can avoid queues and waiting by buying your ticket to Tokyo Skytree online, something I really recommend.

If you have vertigo I recommend you better leave aside this activity, but if not, let nothing stop you to see Tokyo from the heights! In addition, it is also a good place to take shelter from the cold of the Japanese capital during December.

Book tickets for Tokyo Skytree

5. See Tokyo in comfort

Tokyo tour bus|©Stig Bjorge
Tokyo tour bus|©Stig Bjorge

If you feel like getting to know the Japanese capital in a comfortable way and from a different perspective, you can do it on a day bus tour. Normally, these activities also include a sightseeing cruise, so you can discover the city in two totally different ways.

I recommend this activity if it is your first time in Tokyo, as it makes stops at major monuments and tourist attractions. Although it is also ideal if you do not have many days of travel and you do not want to miss anything, because you will discover much of the city in just one day.

And on the other hand, being winter, the bus can help you shelter from the cold and enjoy the city despite being December.

Book a bus tour in Tokyo

6. Get to know the culture of Japan under cover

bonsai at the museum|©Anita Pravits
bonsai at the museum|©Anita Pravits

Japan in December can be a very cold place, but if you don't want to waste time huddling in cafes (which is also very cool), the best way to combine warmth and sightseeing is to get tickets to the Fuji Art Museum.

This museum houses about 30,000 Japanese, Asian and European works of art in general. In fact, it is best known for its Western oil paintings.

It is located very close to Soka University, in Hachioji, and is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00 to 17:00 (including holidays).

Book tickets to the Fuji Art Museum

7. Fox Festival

Fox Festival| ©Rekishi no Tabi
Fox Festival| ©Rekishi no Tabi

Its name in Japanese is Kitsune no Gyoretsu and for us it would be The Fox Procession. This celebration is a peculiar tradition that takes place year after year on New Year's Eve in Tokyo and commemorates these creatures

It is held in the neighborhood of Oji, as it is considered the area par excellence of the foxes of Kanto and where the enoki, their sacred tree, is located.

Midnight is announced with the typical chimes and it is at that moment that the procession of the inhabitants dressed as these animals begins towards the Oji Inari Jinja shrine, carrying in their hands Japanese paper lanterns that illuminate their march.

8. Experience a Christmas Tokyo

Hibiya Tokyo| ©Mark D
Hibiya Tokyo| ©Mark D

December brings Christmas and, if you visit the city of Tokyo in this month, you can take advantage of all that this holiday entails. The streets, stores and the whole environment itself have special decorations and illuminations to celebrate Christmas. Traditions and festivals more than special take place in this month in which the Christmas atmosphere invades the city of Tokyo.

One of the activities that can not miss is the traditional tour of one of the Christmas markets. Whether you want to treat yourself or bring something nice for a loved one, these Christmas markets are ideal.

You can find a huge diversity of handmade products, decorative items, textiles and delicacies of all kinds, and you will even have the opportunity to taste a good mulled wine. These markets also often host art exhibitions such as concerts and small Japanese plays.

9. Setagaya Boro-ichi New Year's Eve Market

Setagaya Boro-ichi| ©Nemo's great
Setagaya Boro-ichi| ©Nemo's great

Participating in regional markets while traveling is one of the best ways to get into the depths of the culture of the place you are visiting, especially at the end of the year, when Christmas comes and it is time to go for family gifts.

Emerged in 1578, the market known as Setagaya Boro-ichi originated as a place to buy just scraps of cloth, which the Japanese know as "Boro". Today, the popular market brings together more than 700 exhibitors and vendors offering various products, such as antiques, handicrafts, clothing and traditional dishes.

It is nationally recognized as a heritage of Japanese culture. Undoubtedly, if you go to Tokyo in the month of December you can not miss a walk and try a delicious daikan mochi, which is one of the most typical dishes of the place.

10. Ice skating

Skiing| ©ayako
Skiing| ©ayako

In the winter in Tokyo, several ice rinks open their doors, where you can have a great time. This is an ideal activity to share with the family, and one of the best ways to warm up while having a good time. Some of the most popular ice skating rinks in Tokyo are:

Tokyo is known for its great modernism, and its ice skating rinks are among the best in the world. What better than to enjoy them when the season begins and the city is immersed in beautiful Christmas weather.

11. Visit the shrines and temples to experience Japanese New Year's Eve

Sensoji| ©Leng Cheng
Sensoji| ©Leng Cheng

Say goodbye to the year in Tokyo! After Christmas is the perfect time to visit the shrines and temples of Tokyo and soak up the culture and traditions of Japan. The main temples in this city (and the most popular during the end of the year) are:

  • Sensoji Temple in Asakusa.
  • Meiji Shrine
  • Zōjō-ji Temple

On the last night of the year, hundreds of people, both locals and tourists, gather at these centers of faith to raise their prayers and petitions for the welfare of their family, and their wishes for prosperity and good fortune for the coming year. As an added bonus, in these temples you can hear the Joya no Kane, which is when these shrines ring their bells about 108 times, one for each sin according to Japanese tradition.

12. Honor the samurai at the Ako Gishi-sai Festival

Ako Gishi-sai Festival| ©Ronin Dave
Ako Gishi-sai Festival| ©Ronin Dave

Every December 14, at Sengaku-ji Temple in Minato-ku, Tokyo, the Ako Gishi-sai Festival is held to pay homage to the samurai heroes of the Edo period. It is just one of the many samurai and ninja experiences you can have in Tokyo...

In this shrine are the tombs of the 47 samurai and their master, who ended their lives by harakiri. These 47 soldiers are the well-known and glorious heroes of Akoh, popular in Japanese culture and often depicted in movies.

The event occurred in the year 1703 where these samurai avenged the death of their master. 300 years later, the Akoh Gishi Memorial Museum was erected to pay tribute to them by displaying images of the heroes and all kinds of items related to this event.

13. Enjoy the Odaiba Rainbow Winter fireworks display

Fireworks at Rainbow| ©Takahiro Hayashi
Fireworks at Rainbow| ©Takahiro Hayashi

Every Saturday in December, at around 7pm, more than 2000 fireworks are launched at Daiba Park. This magnificent park is a large green space next to the waterfront, which has one of the best views of the Rainbow Bridge, as well as a privileged view of the city of Tokyo.

In case you didn't know, Odaiba is an artificial island that connects to the city of Tokyo through the Rainbow Bridge. This site is a must-see for all tourists passing through Tokyo, and what better than to know it while enjoying this special fireworks show.

All these light shows are choreographed and synchronized with music, which makes it an unforgettable spectacle. If you are visiting Tokyo in December, don't miss this opportunity.

14. Join the Painted Faces Festival

Oshiroi Matsuri| ©kyoto flowertourism
Oshiroi Matsuri| ©kyoto flowertourism

This is one of the most peculiar and curious festivals of Japanese culture celebrated in Tokyo. The Oshiroi Matsuri, its name in Japanese, is celebrated year after year on December 2, and is a tradition that is more than 400 years old.

Hundreds of participants, both locals and foreign tourists, gather at the festival of painted faces. Originally, this festival was a ritual exclusively for farmers and herdsmen who prayed to the deities for good crops and good health for their livestock.

The Oshiroi Matsuri is held at Ōyamazumi Shrine, minutes away from the city of Tokyo. It is totally worth taking the opportunity to visit it if you are in these dates and you are interested in the most ancient traditions of Japan.

How is the ritual

The ritual consists of the participants smearing their faces with a paste called oshiroi, which is made with rice flour. Those who undergo this tradition must keep their faces unwashed throughout the day. Tradition has it that those who participate in the face painting festival attract prosperity and good fortune for their lives.

What is the weather like in Tokyo in December?

Tokyo| ©Jeff Easter
Tokyo| ©Jeff Easter

In the city of Tokyo, December is a very cold month, with temperatures averaging around 12 degrees Celsius in the afternoon, and can drop to 5 degrees Celsius at night and in the early morning hours.

The great advantage of December is that it is the least rainy month of the year, with an average of 4 days of light rain. In the middle and end of the month, you may encounter some snow in the city, although this is not the most common.

What to pack in my suitcase if I go to Tokyo in December?

Preparing your luggage| ©Marissa Grootes
Preparing your luggage| ©Marissa Grootes

December is a month with extremely low temperatures in the city of Tokyo, so I advise you to bring some clothes warm enough to tolerate these temperatures, so you can enjoy your trip and walk around the various attractions of this magnificent city. Sweaters, wool hat, gloves and a good jacket are indispensable.

It is also very important to have good footwear, comfortable and if possible waterproof, that will guarantee you to be comfortable visiting this incredible city.

And as in any trip, remember to bring a universal power adapter to recharge your electronic devices in the place you are staying. Keep in mind that the Japanese use the American type plug.