Nara Landmark: Hatsumode at Todaiji Temple

All throughout the world people celebrate the new year with fireworks, parties and shopping. While there are big events in Japan, most decide to have a quiet holiday with their family. New Year’s Day, also known as oshogatsu, is an auspicious holiday steeped in tradition. Families throughout the country celebrate the new year with osechi-ryori, a type of cold lunch box only eaten during the holidays, and with hatsumode, the first shrine or temple visit of the new year.


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While hatsumode is traditionally celebrated at a Shinto shrine, Buddhist temples also hold new year’s celebrations. Nara, a city less than an hour away from Kyoto and filled with Buddhist temples and bowing deer, is a quiet town ideal for celebrating the new year. Todaiji Temple, built in 752, is one of Nara’s largest Buddhist temples and is well-known for the Daibutsuden (Big Buddha Hall), a wooden structure holding a 15 meters tall Buddha statue. New Year’s at Todaiji Temple starts with joya no kane, a bell-ringing ceremony on midnight on January 1st. A bell is rung 108 times, the rings representing Buddhist worldly desires.  


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Celebrating hatsumode is quite simple. Since Todaiji Temple is one of the most famous temples in Japan, there will probably be a long line. Dress warmly, bring pocket warmers and be prepared to wait. Don’t forget to purchase an omikuji (fortune), an omamori (amulet) or write your wish on an ema (wooden sign) for a lucky new year. Hatsumode can be celebrated throughout the New Year’s holidays (January 1-5)

While you’re in Nara, take advantage of the traditional cuisine. 

Restaurant Kaiseki cuisine at Kichiza Denemon 


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Kaiseki is a gourmet meal served in multiple courses. Unlike decadent western-style haute cuisine, kaiseki is quite light with a focus on fresh ingredients. Kichiza Denemon serves seasonal dinner kaiseki courses in three plans, ranging from 6,000 JPY to 12,000 JPY. Seafood and sansai (wild, foraged vegetables from nearby mountains) are the main focus, each served in small yet filling dishes. Each dish is masterfully crafted, the fresh ingredients are finely sliced and add dimension to each dish.  

Lunch 11:30am-2:00pm (last order 1pm), Dinner from 5:30pm-10pm (last order 9pm), closed Mondays. Reservations are recommended for dinner. Closed on December 31st - January 3rd.

Restaurant Kanotsuki by Syoka 


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For the ultimate Todaiji experience, trek the short hike to the Yume Kaze Plaza located within Nara park to Syoka. This unique eatery provides wonderful views with traditional Nara-style decor and operates three “volumes” of the Nara period through food and drink. Kanotsuki serves colorful te-ori sushi spreads (2300JPY~) , invoking the cultural richness of Todaij and its history. Be sure to save room for Kotonoha tea stand, where you can find their cute Decoration Lattes (1040JPY) or Decoration Shakes (1130 JPY). 


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New Years
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