Hatsumode is a Japanese event held at the beginning of the year. Shrines and temples become lively and bustling, with a somber but hopeful atmosphere.
In this article, we will introduce the reasons why people do Hatsumode, the manners and taboos for Hatsumode, and popular Hatsumode spots.
What is Hatsumode?
New Year’s is one of the most important events for Japanese people. It is a day for reflection on the past year and hopefulness for the year ahead.
Many people go back to their hometowns, and it is a privilege of the New Year to be able to spend more time relaxing than usual. Many Japanese people say that New Year’s Day is their favorite time of the year. Originally, “Oshogatsu” (New Year’s) was an important event to connect people with the gods, and each custom practiced during Oshogatsu has its own meaning and origin.
For example, Kagamimochi (mirror rice cakes) have the meaning of a boundary, and are said to be the highest quality offerings to the gods. The “kadomatsu” is a welcome for these gods to enter the house, and the “shimenawa” is a symbol of the Shinto shrine, an important symbol of the welcoming spirit.
When the New Year arrives, many Japanese people visit shrines and temples to pay their respects. However, do you know what Hatsumode is for in the first place? It is said that the custom of Hatsumode has been rooted in people since the Edo period (1603-1868). Originally, the term Hatsumode was used to describe a visit to the nearest shrine or temple from one’s home, but now it has come to mean a visit to a shrine or temple at the beginning of the New Year itself.
Traditionally people wore a kimono for Hatsumoode. The kimono for Hatsumode is not a formal kimono such as the Tomesode, but a casual kimono made of cotton or wool. Recently, there are kimonos that can be washed at home and are easy to care for. If you are a kimono beginner, it is recommended that you use such a kimono if you wish to try.
Many people wear shawls or coats over their kimonos when it is cold, but it is known to be proper etiquette to take them off indoors. To protect yourself from the cold, it is best to choose your inner wear wisely, and if possible, wear less clothing on top. Woolen kimonos are recommended for their warmth.
Popular New Year’s greeting spots
Let\’s take a look at some of the most popular Hatsumode spots in Japan.
Meiji Shrine is located in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo. It is the most popular New Year’s visit spot in Japan, with the largest number of visitors every year. It is said that more than 30,000 people visit the shrine on the first three days of the New Year, and it is crowded with people every year. Although it is located not far from JR Harajuku Station, there are so many trees on the grounds that you will forget you are in Tokyo, and the area is filled with rich nature. During the New Year’s visit, there are many food stalls, and you can enjoy just by looking at them. In the first week after the first three days of the New Year, there is a festival known as the first Yokozuna ring-entering ceremony of the Grand Sumo Tournament, so this is a very festive time for Japanese people.
After the Hatsumode, why not enjoy shopping in Harajuku and indulge in the latest gourmet delights in Omotesando? Whether you are visiting with your family or on a date or with friends, the vibrant atmosphere of the city will help you feel excitement for the new year.
Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine
Next up is Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine, located in Fushimi-ku, Kyoto. Fushimi Inari-Taisha is known as one of the most popular sightseeing spots in Kyoto, and many people have probably seen the rows of vermilion torii gates. The main attraction of Fushimi Inari-Taisha is the huge row of torii gates extending up the mountain. It is said that this area is the entrance to a mountain known as the descending land, where the gods come down, and that these torii gates were built as a gate leading from this world to the ghost world where the gods exist.
It is said that this torii gate was built as a gate leading from the present world to the ghost world where the gods reside. It is surprising to know that two to three of these gates are rebuilt every day due to deterioration. On the first three days of the New Year, Fushimi Inari-Taisha Shrine is open all day, and the number of visitors is estimated at 2.7 million.
One of the reasons for the popularity of Fushimi Inari Taisha is that it is only a 3-minute walk from Inari Station, the closest station to the shrine. We recommend that you visit the shrine when there are as few people as possible, as it is expected to be quite crowded. Otherwise, it will be difficult to even get out of the station. Fushimi Inari-Taisha Shrine is known for its Inari-san, but it is also famous for its very cute fox-shaped ema (wooden plaques). Why don’t you write down your goals and wishes at the beginning of the year?
The next stop is Sumiyoshi-taisha Shrine in Sumiyoshi-ku, Osaka City, Osaka Prefecture. Sumiyoshi-taisha is the headquarters of the 2,300 Sumiyoshi shrines in Japan. It is also known as a power spot in Osaka and is one of the most popular tourist destinations. On the first three days of the New Year’s holiday, about 2 million people visit the shrine, making it a very popular spot for New Year’s visits. At night, the bridge is beautifully lit up, and the view is so spectacular that it has been selected as one of the 100 best night views in Kansai.
It is said that there are relatively few people at Sumiyoshi Taisha after 4:00 p.m., even on the three New Year’s days. The festival that attracts more people is the one held on the 4th and later, when red and white rice cakes are served at the stepping song ritual spot to pray for a good harvest. In the White Horse Ceremony, you can see white horses galloping around and it’s a sight to behold. It is said that anyone who sees the horse will have good health for the rest of the year.
Tsuruoka Hachimangu Shrine
The next stop is Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine, located in Kamakura City, Kanagawa Prefecture, another popular tourist destination. It is located not far from Kamakura Station, just past Komachi Street, which is crowded with small stores, general stores, and souvenir shops. The beautiful scenery is sure to capture the hearts of all who see it. On the first three days of the New Year, about 2.5 million people come to pay their respects at the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine, praying for good luck, safety in the home, protection from bad luck, and marriage.
After the Hatsumode, it is fun to enjoy the streets of Kamakura and take a short stroll to Enoshima Island and other places. It can get very windy and cold along the coast, so be sure to take warm clothes when you visit.
More about Hatsumode
Although all of the spots mentioned here attract many people, there are times when the crowds are smaller, such as early in the day or on January 2. In general, the most crowded time for Hatsumode is from midnight between New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, when many rituals are held. If you want a quiet and peaceful experience, either go very early in the day, or choose a less popular neighbourhood shrine.
Also, even though there will be a lot of people there that day, it is expected to be very cold. Make sure you are prepared for the cold and are in good physical condition for the Hatsumode. In addition, it is generally considered difficult to visit a shrine by car during Hatsumode.
During New Year’s Eve and the first three days of the New Year, public transportation is often operated on special schedules, and the last train may run later than usual. If you are planning to visit a far away shrine, check the transport schedule in advance.