• Staff Report


People wishing to make a fresh start on New Year’s flocked to major shrines and temples across the archipelago Friday morning in the annual ritual known as hatsumode (first visit of the year).

Major destinations of wish-makers, including Meiji Shrine in Tokyo, Ise Shrine in Mie Prrefecture and Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine in Kyoto, were crowded with visitors, who will number hundreds of thousands during the first three days of the new year.

At Meiji Shrine, people cheered when they heard the sound of taiko drums telling the turn of the year.

“The stock price rose last year, and so did my salary,” a male office worker who was at the shrine with a friend was quoted as telling the Nikkei business daily. “I wish the economy will get even better and make the society brighter.”

Shrine-goers also flocked to Ise Shrine around the turn of the year. As part of efforts to help avoid congestion, the Ise Municipal Government set up webcams at key spots and provided a live broadcast on the Internet to inform people about the crowd situation, local online media Iseshima Keizai Shimbun said.

At Sensoji Temple in Tokyo’s Asakusa district, people of all nationalities gathered to celebrate. The temple is one of the capital’s major sightseeing spots for foreign tourists.

To handle the massive number of people moving to and from major shrines and temples, railways continued train runs from Thursday night to Friday morning.

To avoid mishaps around the time of the New Year’s countdown, the Metropolitan Police Department tightly controlled crowds in Tokyo’s bustling Shibuya district, by regulating the flow of pedestrians at the area’s iconic scramble crossing in front of Shibuya Station.

From late Thursday night to early Friday, several hundred police officers were mobilized while some railway ticket gates near the crossing were closed. As a result, there was no major troubles at the crossing.

Even so, youths and foreign tourists who gathered in less-controlled areas to celebrate the turn of the year went out of control and five were arrested on suspicion of disrupting police duty, Kyodo News reported, quoting the MPD.

One riot police officer was punched in the face during a skirmish, while youths jumped onto a police vehicle, according to the report.

For police nationwide, crowd control has been a matter of major concern in recent years, with threats of possible terrorist attacks said to be increasing in densely crowded areas. Japan is scheduled to host the Group of Seven summit in May in the Ise-Shima area in Mie Prefecture.

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