Hatsu hinode is the wonderful Japanese tradition of watching the first sunrise of the New Year.
Only three sleeps to go! Until we embrace the New Year with a crisp start! Because whenever we can, we start our New Year in the freezing cold of dawn to watch the first sunrise. For the last few years I have shared some of the famous hatsu hinode spots in Saitama, Chiba and Tokyo, but what about the lesser known places? Well, we’ve tried to discover a few of those too, but turns out more often than not we fail. Take for example, last year (2022), we tried out a spot in Kawagoe on a hunch. It turns out that it is actually quite well known and the hundreds of people there were testament to that!
A quiet Hatsu Hinode
Because of the pandemic, we were looking for a quiet place for Hatsu Hinode last year (2022). We were trying to avoid the crowds that you see in the famous places for hatsu hinode, such as Chichibu Muse Park or shrines and temples. I was thinking of Ochiai Bridge in Kawagoe, because I like to couple my hatsu hinode experience with the very important first new year glimpse of Mt Fuji. We are actually on the wrong side of Fuji to be able to see the sunrise above it, but that doesn’t matter. We can actually see Mt Fuji first, before the sun, as it is to our East and already in the light of day as we are still in the dark of night! Then we have Mt Fuji watching our backs as we welcome the first sun!
My husband insisted that there was a place on the border of Ageo, along the Arakawa where we would have an unmitigated view. Moreover we would be able to park, which is something we wouldn’t be able to do at Ochiaibashi. There is a place where you could risk parking for the 30 minutes you would need to watch the sunrise, but it only fits about three cars. Even though we assumed Ochiai bridge is an off the beaten path spot, we knew there would be at least a few people there. Thus, we’d have to get there before 5 am to secure one of those parking spots. Not ideal with four children.
Arakawa Hatsu hinode
My husband’s suggestion won, because I quite liked the idea of watching the sunrise over the Arakawa, as one of the most significant rivers of Saitama Prefecture. In addition, the Iruma River runs behind the spot so we also had a river in our Mt Fuji view! Unfortunately, though I couldn’t get a good photo with the river and Mt Fuji. The rivers at Ochia Bridge are the Oppe, Iruma and Koaze rivers. Moreover, we had never heard of anyone watching the sunrise from the spot along the Arakawa we had chosen. In addition, an internet search brought up zero information in any language for hatsuhinode at the spot, so we decided that was where we would go in the early hours of January 1st 2022.
Much to our surprise, there were dozens of cars there when we arrived. Even more arrived after us. They were parked along the riverbank, as well as at the bottom of the embankment. And they just kept coming, even as the sun had started to rise. In hindsight, it makes perfect sense that locals would also think to view the sunrise from an embankment along the Arakawa. River Embankments make the perfect place for sunrise viewing, because in Japan most of them are elevated. And the wide riverbanks of large rivers offer a beautiful view.
Iruma Ohashi “Iruma Big Bridge”
The place we had chosen is on the southern embankment of Iruma Ohashi, which is a very famous bridge in Kawagoe. (Which incidentally Google Maps is now listing as Iruma Big Bridge. That gave me a laugh this morning!) Furthermore, the embankment is beside Off Road Village, a popular dirt bike course. It is only natural that frequent users of that off road race course and the Iruma Ohashi would recognize this would be a good spot for hatsuhinode! Moreover, had I have searched for 入間大橋初日の出 (Iruma Ohashi hatsu hinode) I would have known that this is a popular spot! There are dozens of entries online for this search term. I had searched with different terms in Japanese!
Even though there were hundreds of people there, thanks to the length of the embankment, we could watch in a single file, as you can see in the photo above. (Sorry about the quality; neither my Canon camera nor my then smart phone worked well in the dark! I got a new smart phone in the summer – I can’t wait to try my Google Pixel for the 2023 sunrise!) Moreover, as you are outdoors, it felt safe (from Covid).
For the record: we drove by Ochiai bridge on our way to and from Iruma Ohashi Bridge and there were also dozens of people there. Not as many as at Iruma Big Bridge in fairness, but more than I expected. So that also wouldn’t have been as off the beaten path as I had envisioned. Also, as we were not there at the prime sunrise time, it is probably fair to assume that there were even more people right as the sun was rising. At Iruma Big Bridge people arrived right up to when the sun had peeked out and many left as soon as the full sun was visible.
We watched the first sun rise in silent harmony with hundreds of strangers… and it was magical. I quite liked that there were two smoke stacks in our view, as you can see in the featured photo at the top of the post. I thought they looked liked giant candles in the mystical hues of a winter’s morning. Below is the same scene, taken by my daughter.
Kawagoe Hatsu Hinode Information
Date / Time: As you can see in the photo above, my daughter took that photo at 7 am New Years day. The time of the first sunrise changes each year, but only by a matter of minutes. By and large the first sunrise in Saitama Prefecture and Kawagoe in any year is around 6.50 am, give or take a few minutes. In 2023, it will rise at 6.51 am in Kawagoe. The sun starts to peek through then and within about 10 to 15 minutes it is wholly visible but low. It doesn’t take long for it to rise though.
Location: Iruma Ohashi “Iruma Big Bridge” Green Space, Higashihonjuku, Kawagoe, Saitama 350-0847. View on Google Maps.
What to bring: Not essential, but if you are not good with the cold you might like to have:
- flasks of hot drinks!
- Kairo pocket warmers.
- At the very least – hats, scarves and gloves!