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Tokyo, Japan’s largest city and capital, is home to over 13 million people! It is a global center of finance, culture, fashion, and technology and draws many visitors annually. This city holds a special place in my heart because I studied abroad for half a year, and it was my first time moving to another country alone. I was there during the Winter months and am excited to share my favorite things to do in Tokyo in December!
Is Tokyo Safe?
Tokyo, and Japan in general, are considered incredibly safe. Tokyo is one of the few cities where I feel comfortable walking outside alone at night. The city is well-lit, and there are usually people out and about at all times; the crime rate is low, and it ranks high in safety on Geosure (one of the best safety rating apps).
I recommend taking general precautions such as staying alert, securing your belongings with this anti-theft bag, and staying in populated areas. However, Tokyo is one of the best cities to visit, especially as a solo female traveler! Don’t forget to check out these tips if it is your first solo adventure.
December is the winter season, and the weather can be chilly and dry. The average high temperature during the day is around 11 degrees Celsius (52 degrees Fahrenheit), while the average low temperature at night is about 4 degrees Celsius (39 degrees Fahrenheit). However, it can go below freezing some days. Pack a winter coat and these essentials for your trip!
Without further ado, here are the top things to do in Tokyo in December:
See the Winter Illuminations
The Winter illuminations are a highly anticipated annual event, attracting locals and tourists alike to look at the stunning lights displayed throughout the city. Many neighborhoods feature unique illuminations, with popular locations including Roppongi Hills, Tokyo Midtown, Omotesando, and my favorite, Shibuya. Remember to check out the Daiba Memorial tree in Odaiba!
The illuminations usually begin in late November and run throughout Tokyo in December and early January. Some larger installations are accompanied by music or other fun features, creating a unique and lively atmosphere. The illuminations can draw large crowds, so I recommend visiting during the week or early in the evening.
Go to the Christmas Markets
The Christmas markets, modeled after the German Christmas markets, are another fun way to celebrate December in Tokyo! They sell handmade crafts, decorations, food, and mulled wine. They can sometimes feature live performances and music, adding to the atmosphere!
My favorite Christmas market is the one at Roppongi Hills, but you can also find them in other places, such as Yokohama and Hibiya Park. Like the Illuminations, they are open from late November to Late December, with some extending into early January.
Enjoy KFC and a Christmas Cake
Japan has some unique Christmas traditions! On the actual Christmas day, it is customary to have KFC for dinner. This results from a successful 1970s KFC advertising campaign promoting fried chicken as a Christmas meal.
It is also tradition to have a Christmas cake, usually a sponge cake decorated with whipped cream and strawberries! I have seen ones with entertaining and elaborate designs, too. December in Tokyo is the perfect time to celebrate these unique customs.
Go Shopping and Experience Fukubukoro
Tokyo is a fashion and technology capital, making it a fun place to shop! You can stroll through the streets of Harajuku admiring the colorful and quirky fashion, try Shibuya for cutting-edge style, or head to Giza for luxury and designer boutiques. The possibilities are endless, and there is something for everyone!
If you are there for the New Year, you can experience Fukubukoro! This Japanese New Year’s custom involves buying a “lucky bag” filled with unknown contents. These mystery bags are typically sold by department stores, retailers, and other shops in the days leading up to New Year’s. The value of the contents in the bag generally exceeds the cost of the bag, and you can get some fabulous finds!
See the Odaiba Rainbow Fireworks
The Odaiba rainbow fireworks display is breathtaking, typically occurring every Saturday at 7:00 PM throughout December. The show lasts approximately 10 minutes and is accompanied by music, creating a festive and celebratory atmosphere. With the backdrop of Tokyo Bay and Rainbow Bridge, this event typically draws a large crowd.
Go to an Onsen
An Onsen, or Japanese hot spring, is the perfect way to combat the cold and relax during the Winter. They are easy to find throughout Tokyo and one of my favorite December activities. Onsens are typically separated by gender, and people enter the hot springs naked. Entering naked may feel weird if you were raised in Western culture, but it is part of routine life in Japan.
I felt so clean and refreshed the first time I visited a hot spring! It became a staple of my time in Tokyo. They can be indoors or outdoors (which feels fantastic with the cold air in December) and are typically low cost ($3 to $20). If you decide to take a day trip to Hakone, you can even go to one with a beautiful view of mount Fuji!
Day Trip to Mount Hakone
Hakone is a fun day trip from Tokyo; the town has historical and cultural significance. Depending on your interests, there is much to do, from museums to hiking to eating delicious food. It is known for its natural beauty, hot springs, and stunning views of mount Fuji!
It takes approximately 1.5 hours to reach Hakone from Tokyo using an express train. I recommend taking the train early to spend the entire day there.
Other than the hot spring mentioned above, there are two activities you cannot miss:
- Visit Owakudani: Owakudani is a volcanic valley located in the area. The area is geologically active, and you can see the steam rising from the ground, causing a sulfuric smell. Spend some time hiking the trails, and don’t forget to eat the black egg, cooked in the sulfuric hot springs and sold in the area, which supposedly adds seven years to your life!
- Visit the Hakone Shrine: Hakone shrine is not only a beautiful Instagram spot, but the gate on the lake, also known as the Torii of Peace, symbolizes a transition to the sacred. The main shrine is located a short climb behind the initial gate and has an ethereal feeling.
Warm up with Ramen and Sake
What trip to Japan is complete without experiencing ramen and sake? Ramen is cheap (costing around $8) and abundant in Tokyo, with many ramen restaurants staying open past 3 AM for those who want a bite after clubbing! I have not had one bad bowl of ramen in Tokyo, so you cannot go wrong.
Just a few stops from Shibuya or Shinjuku station, Tsuta Japanese Soba Noodles is my favorite. It earned a Michelin Star for its truffle-infused ramen. I went with six friends, and no one said a word throughout the meal because the flavors entranced us. Make sure to reserve your spot well in advance!
Try Ice Skating
Ice Skating rinks are typically open from mid-November to late February, making it one of the top things to do in December in Tokyo. Mitsui Fudosan, the biggest rink, is in the Tokyo Midtown complex. It lights up at night, creating a fun and festive atmosphere! Tickets cost around $20, and it is easy to enjoy this activity after a fun shopping day. Located near Roppongi, you can get there using Tokyo’s convenient public transportation system.
Visit the Tokyo Skytree
Tokyo Skytree provides breathtaking views of Tokyo! Tickets cost $20 to $30, depending on how many observation decks you want to access. I recommend getting the more expensive ticket to access all of the views. Standing at over 2000 feet, it is one of the world’s tallest towers.
I recommend booking a ticket for a little bit before sunset. Watching the sun setting over Tokyo is one of my fondest memories of my time in Japan. The sight will leave you in awe.
Explore the Imperial Palace
Tokyo Imperial Palace is a short walk from Tokyo Station and is the residence of Japan’s Imperial family. Surrounded by moats and stone walls, the New Imperial Palace was initially constructed in 1888 and rebuilt after it was destroyed during WW2.
You can take a free 75-minute guided tour of the palace at 10 AM and 1:30 PM any day except for Mondays and Sundays. The East Gardens are always open to the public, so check them out! Unfortunately, the inner grounds are not accessible to the public except on January 2nd and February 23rd (the Emperor’s birthday).
Experience the Tokyo Great Santa Run
The Tokyo Great Santa run is a more recent Japanese tradition. Originally started in Osaka in 2009, the Tokyo Great Santa run is a great way to get into the Christmas spirit through costume and the opportunity to give to charity! Taking place at the Komazawa Olympic Park, all proceeds go to help hospitalized children.
You can choose between a 2.7-mile run and a 1.3-mile walk. The $25 fee gets you a handmade Santa suit for the run. The atmosphere is enjoyable, and you can stick around for activities and performances around the park. Overall, this fun tradition embodies the heart of Christmas!
Visit Tokyo Disneyland or DisneySea
Though I did not visit Tokyo Disneyland, I did visit DisneySea and had the time of my life! Disneyland is more geared towards children and families, while DisneySea is geared towards adults in its entertainment, food, and drinks.
I recommend DisneySea for solo travelers because of the atmosphere and because it is the only DisneySea in the world, making the experience special. Inspired by the ocean, DisneySea includes classics such as the Tower of Terror and Toy Story Mania!
One-day passes are approximately $60 and are worth the price! You can easily reach the park through the Tokyo train system. It is a great day trip and perfect for a mild December day.
Visit Tokyo Dome City
Tokyo Dome City is a fun entertainment center centered around the Tokyo Dome, home to the Yomiuri Giants baseball team. There is a shopping complex, many dining options, a spa, amusement park rides, and more. There is something fun to do for everyone!
I highly recommend trying the roller coaster; It is outdoors but has a section where it goes through a hole in a building, giving a thrilling experience! Meanwhile, the Ferris wheel allows you to see stunning views of the Tokyo skyline.
If you feel courageous, try the ONRYOU ZASHIK, a haunted house that opened recently in 2018. Without giving too much away, it is unlike any haunted house I have seen, and you are given a mission to complete. It is scary! One of my friends even panicked and pushed me in front of one of the actors that popped out at us, so be careful who you take with you!
These were some of my favorite experiences, but you can also spend the day shopping in LaQua, bowling, snow tubing, or checking out the Christmas market! It is the perfect cold-weather city activity.
Visit teamLab Planets
Last but not least, teamLab Planets is arguably my favorite activity in Tokyo, and it is ideal for a cold or rainy day! Opened in July 2018, this museum in Toyosu has several digital art attractions and theme rooms that transport you to a new world. Many of the rooms are interactive through motion and touch.
My favorite room is “The Infinite Crystal Universe,” which features thousands of LED lights that make it look like you are walking through endless stars. Touching certain areas of the exhibit can trigger different light reactions. You can easily spend a few hours in this museum!
Overall, Tokyo is a fantastic city to visit, and there are so many fun, seasonal things to do in December! Do not let the colder weather stop you from visiting this city and experiencing the magical events, exhibitions, and special activities open during the holidays.