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Friday, Dec. 28, 2012

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Good tidings: At Kawasaki Daishi Heikenji Temple in Kanagawa Prefecture, Buddhist priests take part in a ritual on Jan. 1 to pray for peace. People go to the temples and shrines as part of their New Year's holiday tradition. KAWASAKI DAISHI HEIKENJI TEMPLE

JAPAN

New Year's activities from countdown to sunrise


By TOMOHIRO OSAKI
Staff writer

For Tokyoites, Tokyo Midtown might be one of the most enjoyable New Year's holiday spots if you're keen to go the traditional route. According to Japan's eto (animal zodiac), 2013 is the year of the snake, which has long been believed to symbolize resuscitation and fertility, and prosperity. With that in mind, sand artist Karin Ito will perform at Tokyo Midtown's Canopy Square on Jan. 5 and 6, to conjure up a divine image of a quasi-snake mythological creature called Yamata no Orochi. Graphic artist Vix will also perform the same days, with his graffitilike painting style. (Start times vary; free admission; www.tokyo-midtown.com.)

Nothing is more traditional than seeing the first sunrise of the year. For this, Tokyo City View may be the best place to be. Two of its observatory decks, located at 270 meters and 250 meters above sea level, will both hold a special New Year's period from Jan. 1-6. Staff ushers will be clad in kimono, and visitors can get a ¥500 discount in their ¥ 1,500 admission fee if they dress the same way. Visitors can also write down their resolutions for the coming year on a wooden plaque called an ema, to ward off bad luck. (Sunrise viewing is from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m., regular business hours are 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; www.roppongihills.com.)

Meanwhile, at Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine in Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture, there will be several New Year's-related rituals, including one called joma shinji, scheduled to take place Jan. 5. In ancient Japan arrows were considered to be helpful in exorcising evil spirits. During joma shinji, the audience can watch as a trained archer clad in a ceremonial costume demonstrates his excellent marksmanship. (10 a.m. start; www.hachimangu.or.jp.)

Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine will be busy on New Year's Eve accommodating crowds of people doing hatsumode (first shrine visit of the year). Other places likely to be busy with revellers include Kanagawa Prefecture's Kawasaki Daishi Temple, Tokyo's Meiji Shrine, Chiba Prefecture's Naritasan Shinsho Temple, Kyoto's Kiyomizu Temple and many more. If you don't want to deal with the crowds, your neighborhood shrine or temple might be a better bet.

Yokohama Minato Mirai Hall, meanwhile, will have a special countdown orchestra concert on Dec. 31 that will feature Norichika Iimori as conductor with other popular musicians, including violinist Tsugio Tokunaga. (9 p.m. start; ticket prices vary from ¥5,000-10,000; www.yaf.or.jp.)

Nagoya's Laguna Gamagori is where hardcore music fans from across the Tokai region are likely to converge, as it is set to hold the annual Laguna New Year's Countdown 2013 on Dec. 31. Participating artists include rapper Seamo, hip-hop trio Home Made Kazoku, pop-dance group Bridget and singer-songwriter Mao Denda. Born into a family of classical musicians, Denda mastered how to play the piano and cello as a child and made her debut in the club scene in 1999. Endowed with perfect pitch and the ability to write striking lyrics, she is a great inspiration to her fans and fellow musicians. (6 p.m. start; ¥5,000 at the door; www.laguna-gamagori.co.jp.)

Universal Studios Japan in Osaka is also offering an interesting music festival on Dec. 31. Among participating musicians is house-music DJ Daishi Dance. His first original album, titled "the P.I.A.N.O set" came out in 2006. Characteristic of Daishi's DJ style is a melodious and slightly nostalgic style of house. Other performers include actor Shinji Takeda, this time as a sax player, and shamisen duo Yoshida Kyodai. Adding to the musical festivity is an enormous fireworks display, which organizers say was designed by a group of globally prominent "top-notch artists." Medal-winning foil fencer Yuki Ota will also show up as a guest. (7 p.m. start; ticket prices vary from ¥9,800-¥13,200; www.usj.co.jp.)

Another major countdown concert will take place in Huis Ten Bosch, a theme park in Nagasaki Prefecture designed to look like a Dutch village. While rock band Sophia will likely be the most anticipated highlight, Hakata-based idol group QunQun and model/singer Anna Tsuchiya will also make appearances. Although eye-catching light displays are already everywhere in Huis Ten Bosch, Dec. 31 will mark the start of a new feature involving fire, turning the entertainment park into a "palace of fire." Few guest performers can be as perfect a fit for the theme as "Japan Marvelous," a band of five lively young men and women, who are all expert at playing traditional Japanese instruments such as wadaiko (Japanese drum) and shakuhachi. (8 a.m. start; admission prices vary; www.huistenbosch.co.jp.)

The 32-year-old "Sapporo White Illumination" festival has become symbolic of the city's winter. The tradition started in 1981, when Odori Park was lined with as many as 1,000 bulbs. Due to its popularity, the following years saw the annual event rapidly grow in importance. At New Year's, visitors can expect to enjoy splendid light displays along the avenue in front of Sapporo Station and Minami Ichijo Boulevard. With postquake calls for nation-wide power-conservation efforts, some bulbs will be powered on eco-friendly biodiesel this year. (www.white-illumination.jp.)

Fukuoka-based Yoshimoto comedians will get together at Greenland Resort, a popular amusement park in Kumamoto Prefecture, on Dec. 31. Highlights of the show will include Konbatto Man, who, as a former member of the Self-Defense Forces, takes advantage of his physical strength and broad knowledge of sports to double as a reporter. (The show will be divided into two parts; the first one will start at 7 p.m., and the second at 10 p.m.; admission is free; www.greenland.co.jp/park/event/2012/11131132.html.)


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