I will be the first to admit that a sunset is much easier to see than a sunrise. But maybe that's what makes the sunrise so magical!
In Japan, it's a New Year's tradition to watch the first sunrise of the year, known as hatsuhinode or literally "first exit of the sun." Of course, not everyone in Japan is up at dawn to take part, but it is pretty widely practiced and makes for a unique New Year's story. It can even be a fun challenge to see if you can make it all the way to sun-up after a night of festivities.
Here are seven fantastic places to experience hatsuhinode in the Land of the Rising Sun.
Sunrise over Tokyo, Japan
1. Tokyo Tower, Tokyo, Japan
Tokyo Tower has some of the best views Tokyo can offer, so of course, I had to include it. The tower has very limited space though, so competition to reach the top in time for sun rise can be stiff. Tickets are given out on a first-come, first-served basis to 60 people starting at 2am on January 1st. It can be brutal waiting in line to get the ticket, and then having to wait even more for the sun to rise, but watching the Tokyo skyline light up is like nothing else. But hey! You'll get a commemorative medal to recognize your achievement.
Sunrise from Mt. Takao Japan. A popular New Year's destination
2. Yakuo-In Mt Takao, Tokyo, Japan
Experience three New Year's traditions at once by visiting Mt. Takao! This popular destination for the New Year is in the forests outside Tokyo. While you can get fairly close to the mountain-top temple with other modes of transportation, the final leg of your journey has to be done on foot. At the temple you can experience the hatsuhinode first sunrise while simultaneously partaking in hatsumode aka "first shrine/temple visit of the year." The Yakuo-in also has a special New Year festival called geikosai meaning "greet the new light," where priests chant sutras and sound conch shells as the sub rises to welcome the new year. If you're lucky, on a clear day you can see Mt. Fuji.
View of Enoshima, Japan at Dawn with Mt. Fuji in the distance
3. Enoshima, Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan
This small island is just off the coast of Kanagawa Prefecture, connected by bridge, and only a short distance from Tokyo. Enoshima Island is mostly comprised of a sizable hill rising out of the ocean. It has a small town and shrine. From the peak there is potential for two fantastic views: 1) the sun rising from the ocean and 2) on a clear day if you look west, you may be able to see the morning sun illuminate Mount Fuji!
Inubosaki, Chiba, Japan at sunrise
4. Inubosaki, Chiba Prefecture, Japan
Inubosaki is technichally not the easternmost point of Japan (Cape Shirasaki in Hokkaido is), but because of the curvature of the Earth, it is the first place the sunrise can be seen in Japan. Its iconic lighthouse perches near the cliff's edge, and a rocky shore lies below. So if you want to be the very first person to see the New Year sunrise, this is the place to be!
Hebara Beach in Chiba, Japan. A popular surfing destination with amazing sunrise views
5. Hebara Beach, Chiba Prefecture, Japan
Known among surfers for its waves, this eastern facing shore also makes a good sunrise spot. For this location, and all others on this list bring some breakfast and a thermos of hot tea to stay warm (here, temperatures average 7º C/44º F at night). From the shore, you can see the morning sun set beach's waves alight with fiery color. Though it might be hard to stay awake with the peaceful sound of waves crashing lulling you into sleep!
Mount Fuji is reflected at dawn in Lake Kawaguchi, one of Fuji's five lakes
6. Lake Kawaguchi, Yamanashi Prefecture, Japan
Lake Kawaguchi is one of the Fuji Five Lakes. Besides being the most accessible of the five, it's also perfectly situated, so Mount Fuji rises from its eastern banks. The sun rises and illuminates the sky behind Mount Fuji. Sometimes if you're lucky, the sky may turn a deep red or orange color for an especially arresting view. Adding to the incredible view is the reflection of the scene in the lake's still waters.
The iconic torii gate of Oarai Isosaki Jinja in Ibaraki, Japan at sunrise
7. Oarai Isosaki-Jinja Torii, Ibaraki Prefecture, Japan
This stunning torii deserves a place on any list claiming to include "best sunrises in Japan." This iconic torii (shrine gate) is known as the Kamiiso no Torii or "Gate at the beach of the gods." The gate is built on a rugged outcropping the extends into the Pacific. At sunrise, the sun rises from the ocean and bathes the gate in red light. For those seeking the perfect photo, this gate doesn't have a bad angle. In the stillness of the morning with the crashing waves, and the bright sun passing through the gate, this sunrise will be one to remember.
No matter where you choose to watch the sunrise this New Year, be sure to stay warm! Hatsuhinode wouldn't be much fun if you're too cold to enjoy it. But if waking up before dawn isn't your thing (no judgement) here are some other Japanese New Year traditions that might be more your thing.