Japan at New Year's: How to Hatsumode!

Celebrating the New Year? Around the world many people spend December 31st enjoying champagne and parties. Yet in Japan, festivities are more about reconnecting with the past and preserving tradition. The focus is about connecting with loved ones, eating symbolic food, and participating in hatsumode, or the first visit to a shrine or temple to pray for protection and ensure a safe and prosperous new year.
Hatsumode at Meiji Jingu from Flickr cc by Dick Thomas Johnson
Crowds -- especially in Tokyo! -- can make hatsumode challenging, but that is part of the experience. Mingling with locals and foreigners alike while trying out traditional festival treats at shrines or temples is colourful and energizing. You can experience the intensity with which locals approach these traditions.
Hatsumode, Fushimi Inari from Flickr by Aaron G.
To see New Year's prayers for hatsumode at its peak, head to Tokyo’s Meiji Jingu Shrine in Harajuku or Senso-ji in Asakusa. Further afield? Visit Kawasaki's Daishi  Temple or Atsuta Shrine in Nagoya between January 1st and 3rd. Each of these famous sites sees millions of visitors in the first few days of each year.
Making an offering at Sensoji from Flickr cc by Justin C. 
But what does it mean to hatsumode? What do you do at the shrine?  This beautiful video by "InHama" on YouTube shows you what you need to know. (At busy shrines and temples you will be surrounded by huge crowds, but the principal steps are the same.)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=93NhR0_fAJM
Before making offerings or prayers, visitors must purify themselves. Tocleanyour body and mind before visiting the main shrine visit the water "fountain."
  1. Take a water scoop in your right hand.
  2. Scoop water and wash your left hand.
  3. Switch the scoop to your left hand, and wash your right hand.
  4. Switch scoop back to your right hand and pour water on left hand, then wash your mouth. DO NOT wash your mouth directly from scoop.
  5. Finally, fill the ladle one more time and tilt it to let the water run down the handle -- cleaning it for the next person.
In addition to purifying,  praying and making an offering while visiting a shrine or temple, visitors commonly pick up a mamorior charm. The previous year's charms are brought back and burned on a ceremonial fire to symbolize the returning of the item -- essentially borrowed from temple or shrine to bring protection. You can also write wishes for the coming year on an emaorwooden plaque. If you are feeling lucky, purchase an omikuji fortune paper. Omikuji predict what you can expect for the next 12 months, either good luck or misfortune. If you get a bad luck omikuji, be sure to tie it to a tree or wire at the shrine or temple, and pray for divine intervention to bring you a better outcome!
Buying a New Year's Charm from Flickr cc by Dick Thomas Johnson
Meiji Jingu ema wishes at hatsumode from Flickr cc by Dick Thomas Johnson
Another New Year's experience in Tokyo said to bring the best fortune for the coming months is to attend the "Visit of the General Public to the Palace for the New Year Greeting" at the Imperial Palace on January 2nd, 2016. You can read about this event and see the schedule for the royal families' appearances here.

Imperial Palace visit for the New Year from Flickr cc by Benjamin Hollis
Use our Hatsumode Trip list to read about new year details at each location. If you practice hatsumode at one of these shrines, please add your tip and photos to our spot page after your visit. HAPPY NEW YEAR!
 

Diego Rojas