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Sakura & Ichiro

January: New Year's Shrine Visit

Hashimoto Miki

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(The Japan Forum)

Hatsumode refers to the year's first visit to a temple or shrine. Many families have an annual ritual of making such a visit as soon as the New Year begins.

On New Year's Eve some people leave their houses and wait for the upcoming year to arrive at a temple or shrine. They listen to the local joyanokane bell, which temples ring 108 times to herald the change of year. Once the clock strikes midnight, people throw coins into a box for offerings placed before the altar, pray for a happy and healthy New Year, and then buy good luck charms like omamori amulets and hamaya arrows. Some temples and shrines even provide free festive drinks like sweet rice wine or sacred omiki rice wine.


(The Japan Forum)

In the past, everyone would make their hatsumode visits to small temples or shrines near their house. It later become popular to visit well-known places. As more and more people began visiting the same places, huge crowds became a common feature of the New Year period.

A record-breaking 97.95 million people visited major shrines and temples over the first three days of 2007. The most popular temple, Meiji Jingu Shrine in Tokyo, recorded 3.11 million people. To give you an idea of just how popular visiting shrines during the New Year season is, consider this: During the same three days only about 340,000 people visited Tokyo Disneyland.

Amid these large crowds, police officers work diligently to maintain safety and order. Japan is known for being a safe country, and this reputation is symbolized by the numerous police boxes that can be found in every city and town across Japan, working hard to keep their local areas safe and sound.