During the first three days of January, more than 2 million people make their way to Osaka's Sumiyoshi Grand Shrine to observe hatsumōde (the first visit of the year to a place of worship).
But the number of visitors to the shrine will spike on the afternoon of Jan. 4 due to the Toka Shinji, a time-honored ceremony for a good harvest. It will be held in front of the Daiichi Hongu, one of the shrine's four main buildings.
The event is based on tōka (a ceremony that used to be performed in the imperial court) and will feature two Shinto priests, one with a long, thin branch and the other with mochi (rice cakes) in a small bag.
The pair will begin by facing each other and performing a series of actions — taking a few steps closer and calling out to each other — three times before coming together. Following this, the priest with the bag of mochi will enter the Daiichi Hongu to offer the food to the enshrined deity.
Adding to the solemn mood after the ceremony will be performances of kagurame (traditional female dancers). At the finale, however, the serious tone will be replaced by a lighter mood as shrine workers scatter fukuro-mochi (luck-bringing rice cakes) to the attendees. (Yuki Yamauchi)