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Until the early 1980s and the shopping boom, there wasn’t much to do in Japan on New Year’s Day. Though people had always gone to Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines to pray for good luck in the coming year, for the most part the custom of hatsumode is built on boredom and habit, and shrines and temples have taken full advantage through advertising and public relations. The most popular destination is and always has been Meiji Shrine in Tokyo’s Yoyogi Park. From Jan. 1 to 3, 2010, 3.2 million people visited Meiji Shrine to pray and put cash in the offertory box (kisha, literally “throw with joy”). After that the most popular were, in order, Narita-san Shinso Temple in Chiba (2.98 million), Kawasaki Taishi Heigen Temple (2.96 million), Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto (2.7 million) and Sumiyoshi Shrine in Osaka (2.6 million).

In 2008, the Kyoto Chuo Kinko Bank conducted a survey among 1,200 people about their “actions and prayers on New Year’s Day associated with economic trends.” According to the results, the average person “contributed” ¥320 to each shrine or temple he or she visited on New Years. If we take that figure at face value, it means Meiji Shrine could have hauled in as much as ¥1,024,000,000 for the first three days of the year.

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