In December, month of annual celebrations, Japan dresses up with many nocturnal lights, pleasing both children and adults. When students finish their second trimester exams, Japanese companies organize their end-of-the-year dinner, called bonenkai, which mostly consists of gathering with colleagues in izakaya pubs to drink.
The end of the year has one of the lowest tourist attendances. Most tourists during this period are families coming to spend an enchanting and unique Christmas. You can also find groups of young adults coming to celebrate New Year’s Eve.
Accommodation and transportation are still busy in December as Japanese people book two to three days at the end of the month to visit their families and escape from the cities to visit countryside towns and mountains.
Climate and weather
December is the first month of winter. Temperatures drop in most regions, though they are not as cold as in January or February. On average, temperatures in Tokyo and Kyoto range from 7 to 12°C (44 to 53°F). Depending on the year, the temperature can be warmer; during the day, the temperature can be around 15°C (59°F), though it can be less than 0°C (32°F) in the mornings. It can also snow, and snow has already settled in Hokkaido or the Japanese Alps by this time.
In the south, Kyushu has a warmer atmosphere that reaches temperatures above 10°C, even during the night, though it also has a higher humidity. Colder weather is usually also drier, meaning a clear blue sky. Even though there isn’t a lot of sun (about 10 hours a day), it is balanced with a stronger intensity, which allows you to appreciate beautiful outdoor walks.
National public holidays
In 2019, December 23rd is not a National public holiday anymore. From 2020 on, the Birthday of the Japanese Emperor (Tenno Tanjobi) will be celebrated on February 23rd to comply with the new emperor Naruhito’s birthday.
However, please note that many stores, restaurants, museums and gardens are closed from December 29th to January 3rd.
Top things to do
Urban tourism offers many attractions. At the beginning of the month, you can still see Japanese maple trees, while Christmas lights are already illuminating the city at sunset. Daily visits can easily continue into the evenings, when end-of-the-year animations cheer up visitors and Japanese people in bars and malls. Note: Christmas in Japan is a commercial celebration, and not a religious one: everything remains open on December 25th.
Here are some activities to plan:
|Date||What to do||Where||Related|
|December 2 to 3||Admire the famous Chichibu Yomatsuri nocturnal festival of floats||Chichibu (Saitama)||Event|
|December 9 to 10||Taste Japanese radishes during the Daikon festival of the Sanpo-ji temple||Kyoto||Event|
|December 14||Attend the festival honoring the 47 ronin from Sengaku-ji||Tokyo||Event|
|December 15 to 16||Wander around the great flea market of Boro Ichi in Setagaya||Tokyo||Shopping|
|December 15 to 18||Participate in Wakayama On-Matsuri in Kasuga shrine and admire traditional artistic performances from the 12th century||Nara||Event|
|Mid-December||Visit Arashiyama forest at night to enjoy typical Hanatoro lights, which are made from bamboo||Kyoto||Visit|
|December 17 to 19||Discover the Hagoita-ichi festival near Senso-ji temple in Asakusa and get a decorated wooden paddle as a lucky charm||Tokyo||Event|
|December 21||Go to the last monthly opening of Shimai Kobo, a major flea market in To-ji temple, dedicated to the priest Kobo Daishi||Kyoto||Shopping|
|Up to December 25||Take a walk around the city to admire Christmas lights in train stations, malls and main streets||Everywhere in Japan||Visit|
|All month long||Taste seasonal specialties such as nabe fondue; amazake, a traditional hot drink made from fermented rice milk; and ichigo daifuku, a wagashi pastry, made from red bean paste wrapped around a fresh strawberry for dessert||Everywhere in Japan||Gastronomy|
|December 31||Start New Year’s Eve downtown in any city, following the crowd toward temples and shrines, to hear wishes of good health and success until midnight||Everywhere in Japan||Event|
Travel packing tips
We recommend bringing typical warm winter clothing to visit Japan in December. Choose a comfortable, warm and flexible coat. Scarves, hats and gloves are essential items for all travelers. You should also bring thick tights, sweaters and warm underwear.
Trains and metros, as well as stores and other indoor shopping centers are largely heated (sometimes too much), while temples remain at outdoor temperatures.
We advise taking your own beauty products because they are adapted to your skin and guarantee optimal protection against the cold.