National

New Year's shrine visits and countdown vigils a lesson in crowd control

Kyodo, Staff Report

People who couldn’t wait to make their wishes for New Year’s flocked to shrines, temples and other landmarks nationwide early Thursday morning, and some mishaps were reported amid the day’s festivities.

Meiji Shrine in Tokyo, known as one of Japan’s top destinations for the “hatsumode” New Year’s worship, saw thousands of people on the compound hours before the countdown to midnight Wednesday.

To manage the crowd and speed up their prayer and monetary offerings, staff prepared a large space in front of the main building equal to 400 tatami mats so visitors could throw “saisen” coins there, instead of the usual offertory wooden boxes, so visitors could make quick wishes and leave.

According to NHK, some 3 million people are expected to visit Meiji Shrine during the first three days of the year.

Atop the Roppongi Hills high-rise in central Tokyo, some 2,000 people were on standby on the observation deck early Thursday to watch the first sunrise of the year. Although the sunrise at 6:50 a.m. was obscured by thick clouds, the sun finally appeared at around 8:50 a.m.

Accidents and skirmishes were reported elsewhere.

In the capital’s bustling Shibuya district, known as the center of Japan’s youth fashion and culture, hundreds of police officers were mobilized to control the crowd Wednesday night as people gathered to celebrate the countdown.

When push came to shove, some excited people went out of control and started yelling and throwing bottles at the police, with at least two revelers taken into custody, NHK reported.

In the Dotonbori district in downtown Osaka, a young man was found unconscious after diving from a bridge into the cold canal several meters below, reports said. He was reportedy in a state of cardioplumonary arrest. Aside from the man, several others defied warnings from authorities and jumped into the water, according to witnesses.

In some parts of the country, the weather was rough around the turn of the year, with some climbers reported stranded on mountains in central Japan, local police and rescue authorities said.

At least eight climbers were stranded in the Northern Alps in Gifu Prefecture and the Southern Alps in Yamanashi on Wednesday, after blizzards prevented their return. Rescuers planned to resume their search Thursday.