Translated by Miri S.
【New Year】 The First Shrine Visit
"Hatsumoude" is to visit a shrine or temple for the first time in the new year. "Hatsu" means "for the first time"; "Moude" means "visiting a shrine or a temple". Hatsumoude is also called "Hatsumairi".
Written by Ayako Motokimida
Photo byYoshikazu TAKADA
When you travel to Japan during Year-end and New Year holidays, you might notice long queues in front of shrines and temples. What they are doing is "Hatsumoude".
"Hatsumoude" is to visit a shrine or temple for the first time in New Year. "Hatsu" means "for the first time"; "Moude" means "visiting a shrine or a temple". Hatsumoude is also called "Hatsumairi".
Photo byGuilhem Vellut
So what on earth do Japanese people do in Hatsumoude?
First of all, go and worship
When you go to a shrine or a temple, you go and worship at Haiden (Worship Hall) in a shrine and Honden (Main Hall) in a temple.
People make a long queue to wait for their turn to worship at Haiden or Honden.
You can't tell the difference between a shrine and a temple? Well if you see Torii (a crimson gate), the place is a shrine. If the place is a temple, you see Sanmon (temple gate), which looks like a building.
Photo by Photo by (c)Tomo.Yun
Before you join the long queue, you should wash your hands and mouth at a purification fountain.
When you come in front of Haiden or Honden, you throw coins in a rectangular box. Many people usually throw about ￥10 coin. Some people donate ￥5 coin to wish for forming good relationships; because "Goen" (relationships) and "Go-en" (￥5) have the same sound.
At a shrine, you basically worship with "twice bowing, twice clapping and one-time bowing".
Throw coins in a box and shake a rope dangling right in front of you to ring the bell.
Bow twice facing Haiden.
Then clap twice. Most people move on to making a wish by keep their hands folded.
At the end, bow once again.
Related link：Bowing and Clappings at Shrines in Japan
In the case of a temple, you don't clap your hands.
Throw coins in a box just like you do at a shrine and ring Waniguchi (medal shaped steel drum) or bells, if there are any.
Fold your hands towards Honden and make a wish.
Then bow at the end.
Although temples have many different ways to worship depending on sect, many Japanese people do not care about them.
If you don't know how to worship, just look around and imitate how people do it.
What do people wish for?
Even if it is not for Hatsumoude, visitors of shrines and temples in Japan usually make a wish.
Wishes are as follows: "I hope my work goes well", "I hope I can get married", "I hope I can pass the exam", "I hope we can give birth to a healthy baby" and so on.
In Hatsumoude, as it is the first visit to a shrine or temple, most people thank them for being able to living happily in the last year and wish for another great year. Some people make New Year's resolution and wish for achieving them.
Try your fortune with Omikuji in New Year
In shrines and temples, there are usually "Omikuji".
Omikuji is a sheet of paper on which "words of spiritual guidance" by Gods, Buddha and great Buddhist monks are written.
Many people draw Omikuji to see what their new year would be like and what sort of things they need to be careful about.
In Omikuji, simple words are written to express your fortune: "大吉" (excellent luck), "中吉" (moderate luck), "小吉" (a little luck), "末吉" (good luck in the future), "吉" (normal luck), "凶" (bad luck).
Photo byHajime NAKANO
The Omikuji in the picture above shows "中吉".
In addition to the simple words of fortune, there are other words of guidance classified into some categories: "願い事" (your wishes), "待ち人" (the person you wait for), "失せ物" (missing things), "旅立ち" (travel), "商い" (business), "学問" (study), "相場" (market), "縁談" (arrangement of marriage), "転居" (moving) and so on.
In Kanda Shrine and Senso-ji temple, there are Omikuji in English.
Photo by Jeremy Hall
Most of those people who drew "末吉" (good luck in the future) or "凶" (bad luck) tie their Omikuji papers to fake-branches prepared by a shrine or temple. This is to leave their bad luck to a shrine or temple. Some people tie Omikuji papers to real branches of a shrine or temple; but it is better you avoid that so that you won't damage tree branches.
Photo byJesslee Cuizon
Of course, you can bring your Omikuji back home if you want to.
Check your climacteric year
Photo by hiroooooki
Many Japanese people care about climacteric year. Climacteric year is a Japanese tradition from ancient time; when you are in your climacteric year, you are at the turning point of your life and need to spend the year carefully. Men welcome their climacteric year at the age of 25, 42 and 61; for women, 19, 33 and 37 (there are some changes depending on area or sect). Moreover, the ages before or after climacteric year are respectively called "Maeyaku" (pre-age of calamity) and "Atoyaku" (post-age of calamity). You also need to be careful of those.
When men are 42 and women are 33, they need to be especially careful because they are in the grand climacteric.
A person in climacteric year usually ask for a prayer at Hatsumoude to drive evil spirits away.
At shrines and temple, there are usually lists telling you instantly if you are in your climacteric year.
Try "Ema" if you desperately want to make your wish come true
Photo by Sangho Jo
Ema is also something to express your wish and thankfulness.
Write down your address, name and your wish (or your thank-you message for making your wish come true) on a wood board with illustration and tie it to a certain place.
Photo by Nan-Cheng Tsai
The illustration painted on Ema differs depending on the shrine or temple. Especially in Hatsumoude, you can see many Ema with the illustration of signs of the Chinese zodiac. By the way, 2015 is the year of Sheep, so there must be a lot of Ema with sheep illustrations.
Buy your charm or talisman
Photo byHajime NAKANO
A charm and a talisman are something to carry a part of the power of Gods and Buddha with you.
When a new year comes, people usually renew their charms and talismans.
There are various charms including "家内安全" (Safety of your family), "交通安全" (Safety of traffic), "学業成就" (Academic achievement), "合格祈願" (Success in entrance examinations), "安産守り" (Safe delivery and childbirth) and so on. You buy charms that would make your wish come true.
Photo byDick Thomas Johnson
They are sold at a kind of place in the picture above.
Recently, there are charms with popular characters such as Hello Kitty.
As for a talisman, you put it home. Some families with household Shinto or Buddhist altars put talismans there.
There are also charms called "Hamaya" (ritual arrows to drive away evils). The arrows crush bad things and hit the good luck of the year. You also put these at home.
As for Hamaya and talismans, although some people definitely buy them every year, others have never bought one.
Let's go to Hatsumoude
You don't need to do everything I mentioned above. There are many people who just worship and go home or worship and buy charms.
Some people wear Kimoto for Hatsumoude. You might be able to see very traditional Japanese scenes.
Even if you don't go to big and popular shrines / temples, you can see Japanese Hatsumoude visitors at small shrines / temples.
Why don't you drop by a shrine or temple in New Year?
Please enjoy the unique atmosphere of Japanese New Year.