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Are there any festivals/events/traffic jams that I have to be aware of during the last week of December in Osaka/Kyoto?

My family's planning to go to Japan for this year's holidays, and I'm assigned the travel planner. I've only been to Japan once and it was on June, so I'm not sure how much Japan will be different during Christmas time.

I want to know the difference of Japan during the Christmas holidays, and non-holiday period.

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Japan-Guide is my first go-to site for anything Japan. (I'm not associated with them at all, but have used them personally for visits to Japan and found them very useful)

December is a good month for traveling thanks to generally dry weather conditions. Domestic travel activity remains low during the first half of December until the beginning of winter school holidays around December 23. The downsides of a visit in winter are the relatively short days (sunset is around 4:30pm in Tokyo) and the barren state of the vegetation. From around December 29 some tourist attractions close down for the New Year holidays. The ski season starts in December.

Here is a link to Japan's holidays

The relevant bits:

December 23 (national holiday) Emperor's Birthday (tenno no tanjobi): The birthday of the current emperor is always a national holiday. If the emperor changes, the national holiday changes to the birthday date of the new emperor.

December 24-25 Christmas: Christmas is not a national holiday, but it is celebrated by an increasing number of Japanese. More information is available on the Christmas page.

December 31 New Year's Eve (omisoka): December 31 is not a national holiday. More information is available on the New Year page.

And according to the Events page there will not be any major festivals in Late December.

Not sure if you are there for New Years day, but here are the relevant pages:

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Christmas in Japan is generally a commercial holiday. Expect lots of decorations around shopping streets. All Christmas decorations will get replaced on Dec 25th evening with New Year's ones.

On New Year's Eve there are no public events like fireworks. In major cities at midnight you can visit a Buddhist ceremony of ringing a temple bell (like in Chion-in Temple in Kyoto or Tennoji Temple in Osaka).

New Year on the other hand is a family holiday in Japan and a starting day for visits to shrines. Expect almost no one on the streets, but huge crowds at main shrines (like Inari Taisha or Yasaka Jinja in Kyoto).

In December and January "festivals of lights" will be held in Osaka and Kobe. Streets (trees, buildings, etc.) will be decorated by a large number of lights. For "Kobe Luminarie" prepare a few hours and expect a huge crowd (a few hours of waiting in line).


Some practical information:

Most places of interest to tourists (like museums or castles) will be closed between Dec 29th and Jan 3rd.

If you eat at restaurants, better be prepared for Dec 31st afternoon and Jan 1st. While there is a slight chance you might find an open "family restaurant" (not a family-owned restaurant, but a chain of restaurants of such class) somewhere around major station, but basically all places are closed (McDonald's and Burger King included). On Jan 2nd and 3rd many venues are closed too, but it is much easier to find a place to eat than on Jan 1st.

Public transport runs at night Dec 31-Jan 1st, but during the day trains will run on a holiday schedule (between Osaka and Kyoto they will run every 10 minutes anyway).

Private train companies running between Kobe-Osaka-Kyoto (Hankyu, Hanshin, Keihan) will offer 1-day passes at competitive prices for the first days of January.

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