First Shrine Visit of the Year ~ New Years in Japan

in Photography Lovers2 months ago

Hello to all my friends at Photography Lovers. Today rather than looking at one of my photowalks, I thought we'd take a trip to Hatsumōde—first shrine visit of the year.

For those who don't know, Hatsumōde (初詣) is the first shrine visit of the year. It takes place within the first 3 days of the year. Folks visit shrine and pray for good luck in the coming year. Most people also buy omamori (a kind of charm which you carry with you most of the time), hamaya (an arrow with no tip which repels evil), and omikuji (a fortune for the coming year). They may also pick up a Daruma doll.

Almost everyone does Hatsumode, regardless of whether they are religious or not. For non-religious folks, the event is more of a fun tradition with the hope of good luck.

As you might imagine, it is very busy. Even smaller shrines can be packed on the 1st in the morning. Traffic does drop off, but you will still find a decent amount of people doing the celebration on the 3rd.

Anyway, let's dive right in with some shots. As usual, I'll give some info about each photo after it and well as maybe digress into something unrelated to the shot.

Ready? Let's go!

This is just a portion of the line to pray. I'll show you more of the line later. You can see those two at the head of the line are praying. Step up, clap clap to get the shrine god's attention, bow, then pray. As mentioned before I don't think many people actually believe in anything supernatural here—this isn't like Baptists going to church on Sunday for fear God will smite them otherwise—but many want to believe good luck will come their way from a simple prayer, so they happily indulge in the practice.

Before going and getting in line, however, one should always wash your hands. It's a purity thing. One has to be clean before entering the sacred space and talking with the local god, after all. At one time, when wooden cogs (geta) were the common footwear instead of shoes, people were also expected to wash their feet. Some people may also such up some water, gargle it, then spit it out. Not many do this step these days, but some older folks will.

I have no idea why that guy has a towel around his neck. That is a very common thing to see in summer, but in winter...?

These are tanuki. Yes, they have huge balls. That's a pretty famous feature so you may have heard about it. Most tanuki statues go a little overboard on the size, I think. Tanuki are tricksters and shapeshifters in folklore, so meeting one may be more bad than good, but their statues are common enough to see at shrines.

More of the line. This wasn't as bad as I've seen it in the past. It normally goes around a few more times, down the stairs, and back further. I'll show the stairs in the next shot. Good point here is that usually they give ample free sake and red bean soup to people in line. Well, while supplies last. They were out of the red bean soup when I got there, but there was some sake. I was in a jolly mood after having that.

And the stairs up. Back in the day this was actually a pretty important shrine. The founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate, Ieyasu, was born around here and he came to this shrine as a baby. As a result, the Tokugawa government sponsored this shrine and protected it. Only the richest daimyo (regional lords) were allowed to climb those steps. All common people had to be content at praying fro the bottom of them.

Buying an omikuji, which is your fortune. Lots of feng shui stuff on it, like your lucky direction for the year and so on, but the thing most people care about is it tells you your luck for the year. Mine was medium good. That means I get rich this year, right?

But for people who don't get good luck, they tie the omikuji to these lines. The superstition goes that the bad luck will be stuck there and won't trouble you. Sorry the wide shot looks a little strange. My focus slipped. Must have been the sake.

You might also buy a daruma doll for additional luck. These things are kind of fun. What you do is make a wish or goal and fill in one of the eyes. Then you display it somewhere to remind yourself of the goal. When (if) the goal comes true you fill in the other eye.

You see these around politicians sometimes. Their goal is to win, of course. I usually don't buy them because they are a bit expensive, but I have in the past just for fun.

Another thing to buy at the shrine is an ema. These are wooden plaques with some picture on one side. On the reverse side you wrote a wish and then hang it up. The ones you see here are probably not for New Year's but instead are for childbirth.

You see, due to Ieyasu coming to this shrine when he was a baby, everyone hopes that if they come here when they are expecting a baby and they pray that their baby will be just as successful as Ieyasu. Well, they probably aren't hoping their child will become a warlord and take over the country like Ieyasu did, rather maybe get a good job. That's a kind of success!

I don't know what caused that light noise in the bottom left cornor. But I love it! Reminds me of shooting with my beloved Holga and the light leaks I'd get on that.

Anyway, I have more but let's leave it there for now. I'll leave you with the New Year's song in Japan. It's over now, but leading up to New Year's and on the first three days this song was played constantly everywhere. It is kind of catchy!

Enjoy and let me know if you have any questions in the comments.

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Hi there! David LaSpina is an American photographer and translator lost in Japan, trying to capture the beauty of this country one photo at a time and searching for the perfect haiku.

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    Amazing pix, wish I had more time on my trip to Japan to take some of this in! Mostly regret not picking up a daruma doll while there! Strange just followed yet thought I was for years, must have been the purge I did a few years back starting over to get fresh content flying through my screen.

    Thanks, both for the compliment and the follow! Hmm. I thought I was following you as well. Must have been one of my alt accounts. That's fixed now.

    Hope you can come back here one of these days and spend some more time. Daruma dolls are fun, and ¥1000 for the cheapest isn't too bad when you are just picking one up for a souvenir.