If you are planning to visit Japan in December, it's best to avoid traveling to the country during the last week of the month and the first week of January. That's because this period is one of the busiest travel seasons in Japan. Just as they are in Western countries, many people are off work during this time for the holidays. That can make it difficult to get reservations for transportation and accommodations without a considerable amount of advanced planning. And forget about booking a hotel at the last minute during this time.
Also, if you are taking long-distance trains, try to make seat reservations in advance. It's hard to get seats on non-reserved cars during the peak travel season.
Christmas in Japan
Christmas is not a Japanese national holiday, as most people there are not Christian but practitioners of Buddhism, Shintoism or no religion at all. Accordingly, businesses and schools are open on Christmas unless the holiday falls on a weekend. For this reason, traveling around Christmas Day in Japan isn't as bad as doing so in Western countries.
While Christmas Day is essentially like any other day in Japan, it's important to note that Christmas Eve is celebrated there. It has become a night for couples to spend a romantic time together at fancy restaurants or hotels in Japan. So, if you plan to go out on Christmas Eve, consider making your reservations as early as possible.
New Year's Day in Japan
New Year's holidays are very important for the Japanese, and people usually spend New Year's Eve rather quietly with the family. Because many people travel out of Tokyo to visit their hometowns or go on vacation, Tokyo is quieter than usual on this day. However, temples and shrines are extremely busy, as it has become customary in Japan to spend the New Year focused on one's life and spirituality.
The New Year also coincides with store sales, so it's a great time to get some bargain shopping done if you don't mind large crowds. Jan. 1 is a national holiday in Japan, and people there eat several foods for longevity, fertility and other purposes.
The New Year period might be a good time to stay in Tokyo. You may get good deals on nice hotels. On the other hand, onsen hot springs and snow resorts tend to be crowded with visitors. Early reservations are recommended if you plan to stay at onsen or snow sports destinations.
Because the New Year is widely considered the most important holiday in Japan, most businesses and establishments in the country, including medical institutions, are closed from about the 29th or 30th day of December to the third or fourth day of January. In recent years, however, many restaurants, convenience stores, supermarkets and department stores have stayed open during the New Year holidays. So, if you manage to book your trip during this time, you'll have plenty of options for dining and shopping.