• Jiji


Shinto shrines across the country are seeing a drop in the number of people making traditional New Year’s visits, with many shrines opting to not accept visitors through overnight hours, along with other coronavirus countermeasures.

Meiji Jingu, a major Shinto shrine in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward, which had some 3.18 million visitors over the first three days of 2020, did not accept visitors in the early hours of New Year’s Day this year and placed markings on the ground to encourage social distancing.

“We thought we might have more visitors as many people canceled their trips to their hometowns” and chose to stay in the Tokyo area during this winter holiday period, said Atsunori Mizutani, 62, a negi senior priest at Meiji Jingu. “But it turned out that we’re having less than half the visitors compared with last year.”

Shops that normally open within the premises of Meiji Jingu to offer food and drinks to people making New Year’s visits were gone this year.

For Makiko Kuroki, 73, and her husband, Tetsunori, 70, from Kawasaki, it had become customary to enjoy omiki (sacred sake) and oden (traditional Japanese stew) at Meiji Jingu during New Year’s visits. But, Makiko said with a regretful look on her face, that the couple could not do that this year.

Tetsunori said he prayed that the coronavirus would subside so that people can return to their normal lives as soon as possible.

A couple visit Meiji Shrine on New Year's Day in Tokyo on Friday. | AFP-JIJI
A couple visit Meiji Shrine on New Year’s Day in Tokyo on Friday. | AFP-JIJI

At Kobe’s Ikuta Shrine, whose Jan. 1-3 visitor numbers typically reach around one million, lines of visitors formed only occasionally in front of the shrine building on New Year’s Day this year.

A 78-year-old man who visits Ikuta Shrine every year said, “I hope the coronavirus epidemic will come to an end and this year will be a joyful year for everyone.”

Visitor numbers were also down at department stores on their first business days this year, reflecting people’s efforts to avoid crowded places.

An outlet of major department store operator Takashimaya Co. in the city of Osaka saw the number of people lining up before its opening Saturday fall by more than 90% compared to a typical year.

A corporate worker from Osaka who visited the Takashimaya store with his wife to buy a present for a family member said, “We came here with just the two of us to keep the number of visitors to the minimum at a time like this.”

A woman from Sakai, Osaka Prefecture, in her 60s who enjoys visiting the store every year with her friends to buy fukubukuro (New Year’s lucky bags) was alone this year. “I’ll leave as soon as I buy groceries” because of fear of getting infected, said the woman, who was wearing a face shield on top of her face mask.

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