Things to do / Cultural/Entertainment

Hatsumōde — The new year in Japan

When the Christmas season is over, Japan's more traditional side starts to resurface. By Dec. 28, many homes will be decked out with shimekazari (sacred straw items), kadomatsu (bamboo and pine decorations) and kagami mochi (ceremonial rice cakes).

After the decorating comes joya-no-kane, the traditional ringing of temple bells 108 times on New Year's Eve. And when the new year begins, the general public, including those fresh from partying at crowded spots such as Tokyo's Shibuya and Osaka's Dotonbori, are poised to follow the tradition of hatsumōde (the first visit of the year to a shrine or a temple).

The visit should be made in the first three days of January, or sanganichi, during when people traditionally visit relatives and friends as well as shrines or temples to pray for good luck.

People will head to their local Shinto or Buddhist site, or to popular spots such as Meiji Shrine in Tokyo, Fushimi Inari Grand Shrine in Kyoto and Naritasan Shinshoji temple in Narita, Chiba Prefecture, with more than 2 million people due at each.

At any of these, you can buy an omikuji paper slip to see what your fortune will be like in the new year. Omamori (lucky charms) and hamaya (arrows that ward off evil) are also essential purchases, but check ahead if your schedule in 2021 allows you to return them to the same place, which is a common practice.

And you may want to throw coins into a saisen-bako (box for monetary offerings). It's up to you how much you spend, though some will part with bank notes, believing that more money will ensure the enshrined deities grant their wish.

If your New Year's resolution is a good one, consider writing it on an ema wooden plaque. If you succeeded with last year's resolution, perhaps write out your thanks for that instead.

Some visitors think highly of the year's zodiac animal (the rat for the upcoming year) as a bringer of good luck. According to myth, the rat helped the god of marriage survive an ordeal given by his father, and therefore one destination for you could be where the divine son is enshrined: Izumo Grand Shrine in Izumo, Shimane Prefecture, and Hikawa Shrine in Saitama, Saitama Prefecture, for example.

In terms of somewhere photogenic, though, several places including Tobe Sugiyama Shrine in Yokohama display a pair of komanezumi (guardian mice) statues, which are much less often seen than those of komainu (guardian lion-dogs). (Yuki Yamauchi)