To those fresh off the boat, the idea of a Japanese Christmas and/or Oshogatsu may seem quaint and novel. But to us jaded lifers, it’s an empty facsimile that serves as a reminder of all we’ve left behind and/or another torturous night watching the Kōhaku TV special and fighting down as much osechi as your stomach can tolerate. Now, I’ve been in-country long enough to know that the key to avoiding the seasonal blahs is action; you’re only making matters worse by hibernating alone in your room. And this season there’s so much happening in December, that if you find yourself bored, well then, you just ain’t trying hard enough.
Christmas lights are the one tradition that Nagoya does well. Usually, my go-to for the best display in town is The Nagoya Orchid Gardens. However, as they are closed for renovations this season, the best display seems to be happening right now until February 1 at the Nagoya TV Tower. All the paths and trees of the park have been lit up by over 100,000 bulbs, which not only makes this park more beautiful, but, hopefully, much safer to walk around at night.
For a different approach to illumination, Nagoya Port plays host to the annual Star Light Revue on December 24, which features a firework display and a live Jazz orchestra. It’s a nice place to take that Christmas date of yours, especially considering the fact that it is free.
It’s just not the holidays without running the risk of clogging your arteries with bird meat and pie. And while you could strap on the festive feedbag in true Japanese style at your local KFC, the Christmas dinner special at Shooters is a great way to dig into more traditional fare. From December 24 to the 26, they’ll serve you turkey (or roast beef for ya limeys) with all the fixins for ¥2100 a plate (or super-size it for only ¥2600).
Several other gaijin-friendly establishments usually have a holiday menu, including Coat of Arms in Fushimi and MyBar and The 59’s in Sakae
If you’re looking for something a bit more selfless than drinking, dancing & hitting it this season, then you need look no further than the good people at Santa and Friends Nagoya. For the past 10 years they have worked tirelessly to provide toys, food & a holiday celebration for hundreds of orphans in the greater Nagoya area. If you would like to volunteer your time or money, than contact them right now through their website at www.santaandfriendsnagoya.com.
If you absolutely must get out of town, head up north to Hakuba, a picturesque ski village with plenty of accommodations and places to hang when you’re not hauling ass down their numerous slopes. The Hakuba Backpackers Hostel and Tracks Bar are personal favorites of mine.
Closer to home, you can get your ice skate on at the Moricoro Park ice rink in Nagakute. Open every day until 18:00, this Olympic-sized rink is a popular spot for families and dates. And you can join them for their Christmas Party on December 20 and 21.
And, finally, if you want to skate but can’t stand the cold, you can always try the Toyota Home Rink at Oasis 21 in Sakae. Using a resin sheet called “Super-Glide”, patrons are able to experience a fraction of the maneuverability of ice skating and none of the risk of a wet and bruised bottom. Open every day until 20:00.
New Year’s Parties
In Nagoya, we are spoilt for choice when it comes to counting down from 10 on the last night of the year. Nearly every establishment with a liquor license will have their own New Year’s Eve Event, but the biggest parties are exactly where you’d expect them to be. iD Café in Sakae will pack all 7 floors with over 25 DJs and you can get in for only ¥2000. Club Mago in Shinsakae will also feature an all-star lineup of DJs at ¥2000, but with an added bonus: if you get there before 23:00, it’s free. You can also forgo the cover charge hassle at Club About and MyBar in Sakae and Coat of Arms in Fushimi. If you want to countdown in style, head to Shooters for their New Year’s Eve Bash. Live music, finger foods and all you can drink for ¥4000, which includes a champagne toast at midnight,
After a night’s worth of debauchery, it couldn’t hurt to start the New Year with a clean slate. Hatsumode, or the first visit to a temple or shrine for the year, is a favorite Japanese tradition, which may have something to do with the ceremonial sake being passed around. Many of Nagoya’s holy sites will be open before and after midnight, but the Osu Kanon Temple is by far the most popular destination. Be prepared to wait in line for an hour or so to ring that bell and get your omikuji, but it’s worth it.
Or, if you’d rather face the New Year head-on and sober, you can catch the first sunrise of 2015 at either Midland Square or the Nagoya TV Tower. A relatively new event, two of the tallest places in Nagoya will open their doors at 5:30 to the brave (and sober, I cannot stress that enough) to venture out on to their observations decks for a nominal fee.
Happy Holidays, Nagoya!