Translated by Verity Lane
Hatsumode - Visiting A Shrine Or Temple At New Year's
Hatsumode refers to the first visit to a shrine or a temple in the New Year. Find out what exactly is that people do on a Hatsumode visit, and how it relates to the beginning of the New Year.
Written by MATCHA
Hatsumode is the Japanese tradition of visiting shrine or temple for the first time in the New Year. On this occasion, people pray in the hopes of having a good year ahead. The act of visiting a shrine or temple for prayer is called sanpai in Japanese.
When Is Hatsumode Performed?
There are various opinions regarding when is the best time to go for Hatsumode. Some people pay their first visit to a sacred facility on January 1st, while others believe it's alright to visit anytime from January 1st until January 3rd, or from January 1st until January 7th.
While it is generally accepted that hatsumode is carried out on the first day of the new year, the reality is that popular shrines become extremely crowded, with the number of people trying to avoid this particular day steadily increasing.
What Does Hatsumode Involve?
Visiting a Shrine or a Temple
The basic rules for hatsumode are the same, whether it be a small local place of worship or a famous place such as Meiji Shrine in Tokyo. The procedure is not difficult, so please check out the following articles for reference.
The Offering of Old Charms and Amulets
People purchase amulets and charms at the start of the new year. If you bring charms you purchased from the previous year and offer them to the gods at the shrine or temple, your items will be purified then incinerated, so that they can be returned to the heavens.
Ema - Wooden Wishing Plaques
It is said that writing your wishes down on this plaque of wood called ema, which is usually found at shrines, will have them granted.
Drawing Your Fortune
When you visit a shrine for hatsumode, you can have your fortune for the new year predicted by drawing an omikuji - a fortune telling paper which will tell you just how much luck you can expect to have in relationships, health, finances, career, and other areas of your life.
Purchase a Lucky Charm
From: The First Shrine Visit
Various lucky charms can be purchased at temples and shrines. Items such as Hama-ya (an arrow that has been blessed by a priest and is said to have the power to destroy evil), a yakuyoke amulet that wards off evil, and other talismans are commonly purchased.
Popular Hatsumode Destinations
Meiji Shrine is arguably the most popular Hatsumode destination in the Tokyo area. The visitors line up as early as the middle of the night on New Year's Eve, in order to spend the night between the years on Meiji Shrine's sacred grounds.
The shrine is located in the Harajuku area, within walking distance from the Shibuya and Shinjuku Stations. Even if you go in the middle of the night on New Year's Eve, the area is pretty safe, as there will be thousands of people visiting the shrine. We highly recommend it as a hatsumode destination for those who will be in the Tokyo area on New Year's Eve.
Asakusa's Sensoji Temple is also the favorite hatsumode destination of many. The guardian deity of Sensoji is said to grant wishes related to success in one's career and finances. For this reason the temple tends to be quite crowded if you go on January 1st, but if you enjoy a festive atmosphere you'll surely like visiting Sensoji for hatsumode.
Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine
Tenmangu are shrines dedicated to the guardian deity of learning, Tenjin. There are Tenmangu shrines everywhere in Japan, but one that is particularly famous is Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine in Fukuoka. Visitors from all around Japan come for hatsumode here, especially students who will have important exams in the new year. It is thought that Tenjin will grant the wishes related to academic performance.
If you are in Kyushu, we highly recommend visiting Dazaifu Tenmangu soon after New Year.
Said to be the shrine where all the gods gather once a year, Izumo Taisha has been for centuries an important center of Japanese spirituality. Many people choose it for their first shrine visit of the year, especially those who would like to improve their luck in relationships because the guardian deities of Izumo Taisha are also the protectors of human connections and marriage.
Even if you are not particularly religious, you can, of course, carry out hatsumode, as the event is public and open to anyone. In order to show appropriate respect when visiting a shrine or a temple, wear formal attire, and refrain from talking loudly. If you have the chance to see in the New Year in Japan, why not wish for a good year by giving hatsumode a try?