Are you ready for 2020? It’s time to start planning your winter holidays in Japan, the host country of the 2020 Olympics! A trip to Kyoto is definitely an attractive option as there are abundant Kyoto events in January!
If you happen to arrive in Kyoto in January, then you are lucky enough to join the locals for the celebration of Oshogatsu, the Japanese New Year. Starting with the Japanese custom of the year's first shrine visit, hatsumode, you will find more shrines that offer various new year special services, amusing festivals and markets, and educational exhibitions that provide deeper cultural and historical insights. Scroll down for more details about things to do in Kyoto!
Here are some fantastic January events in Kyoto for a taste of Japanese culture!
The best way to welcome the new year in Japan is to follow the local tradition - hatsumode. Any shrine will be lovely to practice this ritual, you will never run out of choices in this temple-crowded city. The popular venues for hatsumode in Kyoto are the Fushimi Inari Taisha, Kitano Tenmangu Shrine, and Heian Shrine where you can experience the lively festive atmosphere. When visiting the temple, you can join the queue ringing the grand sacred bell to get rid of the bad luck from last year and say a new year prayer afterward. You can also draw the fortune-telling omikuji to predict your luck for the new year. No worries for those who wish to visit the shrine late at night, as Kyoto’s subway and buses will be operating overnight, from the last day of the previous year to the second day of the new year.
Dates: January 1, 2020
Time: 12:00 am~
An energetic way to kick off the new year is to witness the first ball being kicked off! Visit the Shimogamo Shrine in Kyoto in January to watch the show of kemari, a traditional Japanese football game played in ancient times. Players who dressed up in gorgeous traditional clothing will kick the 150-gram “Mari” ball around in the crowd center. While it is not a competitive game, the players will have to cooperate to keep the ball on air. You will also hear them energetically shouting out "Ari," "Ya," and "Oh" to signify each kick’s performance. During the game, enjoy the community spirit by clapping and cheering along with the crowd. It is recommended to arrive early to secure a good seat, as the event attracts a lot of audiences that might leave you a restricted view.
Dates: January 4, 2020
Time: Starting at 1:30 pm
Location: Shimogamo Shrine
The flower blossom is often deemed as the signal of the arrival of spring, therefore Hatsu Ike has become one of the rituals in the Japanese New Year. By mastering the ways of delicate flower arrangement, Ikebana embodies the Japanese cultural value of nature appreciation and caring for others. On the day of Hatsu Ike, over 1,500 students from around Japan will come all the way to Kyoto in January, dressed in their finest kimono, and proudly present their first flower arrangement of the year. Although the flower arranging ritual is not open to the public, the completed arrangements will be displayed in the noon. Immersing yourself in the beautiful floral surroundings will be a good way to start the new year!
Dates: January 5, 2020
Time: 12:00 pm - 5:00 pm
Location: Ikenobo Headquarters Building, Kyoto
One of the best things to do while you are in Kyoto in January would be joining a lively matsuri festival! Toka Ebisu Festival will be held for over 4 days during mid-January to pray for good fortune and prosperity. Fun fact: After praying to the god of luck Ebisu-san, who is described as hard of hearing, prayers gently knock on a wooden board near the main altar to courteously remind the kami-sama to pay attention. There are also various interesting activities throughout the festival including kagura dance, mochi pounding ritual, lucky maguro tuna dedication and the Hoekago parade. Of course, a matsuri experience would not be complete without wandering by the line of food and game stalls that line up the street leading to Ebisu Shrine.
Dates: January 8-11, 2020
Time: Vary from day to day, please check http://www.tooka-ebisu.or.jp/schedule.html for the detailed schedule
Location: Ebisu Shrine
Here is another of the Kyoto events in January for flowers or gardening lovers! Have you heard of shohin bonsai, the mini-sized bonsai that you can even hold on your palm? In the exhibition, you can enjoy a variety of beautiful shohin bonsai which some of them are regarded as the best in the country, and also a showcase of bonsai photos submitted by the overseas enthusiasts. If you wish to have one as house decoration, or even are tempted to make one on your own, visit the sales area to get them at reasonable prices. For those who can understand Japanese, informational seminars and workshops are provided for deeper understanding of bonsai culture.
Dates: January 10-12, 2020
Time: 9:30 am - 4:30 pm (4:00 pm on the last day)
Price: 900 yen for adults, FREE for children 18 years old & under
If you are a fan of Kyudo archery, Japanese history, or traditional costumes, this is the event for you! To celebrate the Japanese New Year, the Omato Archery Competition gathers a group of 20-year-old young women to stage their competent skills in the temple. If you observe carefully, you can see old arrow marks on the temple pillars that hint at this time-honored ritual. Aside from the splendid archery performance, another highlight will be the gorgeous colorful haregi kimonos which are usually worn during special occasions only. In addition, Sanjusangendo Temple is famous for its blessings for good health, so join the ritual Yanagi-no-Okaji that consists of splashing sacred water to heal headaches.
Dates: January 12, 2020
Time: 9:00 am - 3:30 pm
Location: Sanjusangendo temple
In the chilly winter night, a bunch of naked men pour buckets of icy water on themselves and then dance merrily on the stage - this is Hadaka Odori, a Japanese New Year ritual of praying for an abundant harvest. In addition to the traditional dance, you can also see the monks blowing conch shell trumpets and receive blessings from them. To warm everyone up, especially the courageous men who danced in spite of the cold, a soup called kasujiru that is made from sake lees will be served in the temple.
Dates: January 14, 2020
Time: 7:00 pm
Location: Hokaiji Temple Amidado
Are you fond of handicraft items, or creative gifts and souvenirs? Located in a peaceful environment, the temple area turns into a bustling and lively market on the 15th of every month. There will be over 150 stalls selling a wide variety of handmade products, which every piece of them is exclusively and locally made - you will not find cookie-cutter shops here as every stall is unique and worth exploring. Don’t worry if you get hungry in the middle as there will be stalls selling homemade bread, pastries, and coffee.
Dates: January 15, 2020
Time: 8:00 am - 4:00 pm
Location: Hyakumanben Chionji Temple
Being splashed by boiling water might sound bizarre to you, but it is actually one of the Japanese New Year rituals in Kyoto - Yutate Kagura, a Japanese traditional dance to pray for good health. The kagura dance will be performed gracefully by the shrine maidens, with the purpose of purifying the leafy bamboo branches that will be used to stir into the steamy pot of boiling sacred water. If you’re among the curious bystanders, get ready to be splashed by the hot water to receive the warm blessing.
Dates: January 20, 2020
Time: 2:00 pm
Location: Jonangu Shrine
Visit one of the best two markets of Kyoto in January to join the locals in the celebration of hatsukobo - the first market of the year. The market is conveniently located in the famous Toji Temple, the UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the must-visit destinations in Kyoto. There are over 200 stalls in the flea market that offers a wide range of second-hand goods, which makes it a best place to go on a thrift shopping. Enjoy the festive vibes by filling your belly with street food from the line of stalls.
Dates: January 21, 2020
Time: 9:00 am - 4:00 pm
Location: Toji Temple
Don’t worry if you missed the Kobo-san Market, here’s another of the best markets in town! Just like any other markets, Tenjin-san Market is also a fantastic place for shopping and enjoying the festive season. Before leaving the market, remember to try out the shrine’s speciality - chogoro mochi, a rice cake with sweet red bean filling. Enjoy it with a cup of hot sencha to warm yourself in the cold winter.
Dates: January 25, 2020
Time: 6:00 am - 4:00 pm
Location: Kitano Tenmangu Shrine
2020 is the Year of Rat according to the Chinese Zodiac belief. To celebrate the Japanese New Year, the Kyoto National Museum will hold a special rat-themed exhibition to display art pieces that portrayed these robust tiny creatures. Nezumi has always been regarded as a positive animal in Japanese culture - it is the messenger of the god of wealth Daikoku, while also a popular choice of pets during the Edo period. Also, the prolific breeding ability of mice makes them a symbol of fertility and longevity. If you are interested in Japanese art and culture, don’t forget to include this special event in your trip to Kyoto in January!
Dates: January 2 - February 2, 2020 (Closed on 1 & 14 January, 2020)
Tue - Thu & Sun: 9:30 am - 5:00 pm (Last entry: 4:30 pm)
Fri & Sat: 9:30 am - 8:00 pm (Last entry: 7:30pm)
Closed on Mondays
Price: 520 yen for adults / 260 yen for university students
Location: Kyoto National Museum (The Collections Galleries 1F-5)
As you can see, there are plenty of interesting Kyoto events in January to start your year with. Have a wonderful winter holiday in Japan!