Japanese people are well known for their hard-working nature. We are often working overtime, and Tokyo is sometimes described as the overworking capital of the world. In contrast, the New Year is traditionally the time for everyone to relax and stay in front of the TV, with family and osechi, the traditional New Year’s gourmet food. There are no wild parties, like in western cultures. Most of the nation is in resting mode for seven days, including shops, restaurants, offices and doctors. And we are all looking forward to kickstart the New Year with a ritual called Hatsumode, an authentic Japanese experience.
Hatsumode is a visit to a shrine or a temple to pray for having a good year ahead. It is like the nation’s tradition, part of their lives. Traditionally, Hatsumode is practised on the 1st of January, but it is generally accepted to visit the sacred place anytime from the 1st of January until the 7th of January. It is no doubt that the 1st of January is the most crowded Hatsumode time. The atmosphere at Hatsumode is lively and joyful but calm and sacred at the same time. If you are in Japan for New Year's Day, starting it with Hatsumode is highly recommended.
What do people do for Hatsumode at temples or shrines? Well, they pray for the good year ahead, and they purchase amulets and charms. People often bring charms from the previous years and offer them to the gods at the shrine or temple. Apparently, the old charms will be purified, then incinerated there. A visit to a shrine or a temple for Hatsumode includes picking an Omikuji which is a fortune-telling paper that will tell your level of luckiness in the following year. At famous temples and shrines in Tokyo, the content of Omikuji is written both in Japanese and English.
Meiji Jingu is a shrine dedicated to Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken. It is the most popular temple in Tokyo, established in 1925. Meiji Jingu is surrounded by an artificial forest with about 100,000 trees donated from all over Japan. Hatsumode at Meiji Shrine is known to gather the largest number of Hatsumode visitors in Japan every year. Approximately, 300,0000 people visit Meiji Shrine for Hatsumode between the 1st and the 3rd of January. It is located in Shibuya, right next to the Harajuku station. A rumour has it that the peak of Hatsumode at Meiji shrine is on the 1st of January from 12 pm to 3 am. Oppositely, the 2nd and the 3rd of January between 11 am, and 3 pm are less crowded.
Senso-ji temple is located in Asakusa, famous for its blend of old and new Tokyo. This area of Tokyo is popular among oversea visitors. Senso-ji has a long history and was built in the 7th century. Approximately 30 million people visit Senso-ji temple each year, but Hatsumode period is particularly busy. Omikuji that have been around since the Edo period (more than 400 years ago) are very popular. Senso-ji offers special New Year’s charms called Aizenhokyu, which are known for its benefits of marriage, academic promotion, good luck and evil avoidance. There are many food stalls available outside the temple, so you can enjoy Japanese traditional festival street food after Hatsumode at Senso-ji temple.
Japanese people celebrate the New Year in an authentic way, and Hatsumode is a big part of our New Year’s tradition. You can experience Hatsumode at any temple or shrine in Japan between the 1st to the 7th of January. If you are in Tokyo during the first days of January, you must not miss this tradition to kickstart the New Year.
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