While I am very much aghast at the lost-in-translation versions of Christmas, New Year’s day makes up for it in spades. It isn’t Japan trying to assimilate something that is culturally indigestible, it is simply Japan being Japan, and that’s why I like it. Japan doesn’t do New Year’s eve like it is done in the US, and thank God for that.
Miko at Narita-san selling Omikuji.
What Japan has is called Hatsumoude (初詣) and it is just a good time. It isn’t necessarily bound to January first either, but that is when most people do it, but it can be just the first time you visit in the year. At its essence is a simple visit to a shrine to pray for good luck, but there is so much more going on. There are good luck fetishes for various circumstances, and getting your fortune. Your fortune is got from Omikuji, which is like a fortune cookie without the horrible cookie. You randomly choose it and read what is inside. What I like about it is you can get a shitty one. No need to despair though, because you can tie it to a lucky branch or rod, provided by the temple to counteract it. Hatsumoude can be really packed, depending on the particular shrine and sales of good luck charms and fetishes can be very brisk. To do sales, the shrines have to employ Miko, who are technically shrine maidens, but are most often young college girls doing part time work. Oh, and they have to be virgins… That has got to be a very interesting job interview. The whole thing is lined with festival stalls selling random foods and trinkets. Of course, I continue to do my normal Go-shuin stamps as well.
The side shops to buy good luck charms and fetishes.
Temple #1 Narita-san.
I used to live in Chiba, and I have always known about Narita-san, but what I didn’t expect was the size of it. I had a parochial image of it… boy was I wrong. It was really busy there, but they handled the crowds there efficiently. Because it was so big, it was easier to do that.
Temple #2 Katori-Jingu
for crowd control here, they let batches of groups in. If you say to the officers you just want to get a Goshuin, they let you sneak in the back. You can, by the way, merge in with the crowd that is already there though… effectively cutting 2 hours of waiting.
It was a beautiful temple on gorgeous grounds, but it was unfortunately very busy. We were on a fixed schedule and couldn’t wait for the line to pay our respects and make a wish. They were doing crowd control very well here, but the temple doesn’t have the space to efficiently process the thousands of people there. Instead we made a bee-line to get our Go-shuin. I also picked this place to do my Omikuji, and got the absolute best fortune… Score 1 for 2015!
Temple #3 Kashima-Jingu
Another beautiful temple. Crowd control wasn’t really thought through here, and it was just a race to throw in money and make a quick prayer… In other words, it was a Shinto mosh pit. A special note though. The Torii arch at the front was famous for being a blessing against earthquakes, but I suppose its celestial warranty ran out on March 11 2011 as the quake knocked it over and also many of the stone lanterns. They have a new one though… Hopefully they got the extended warranty this time.
Don’t mind the Panoram monsters…
Temple #4 Zojoji
We went here on the second of January. Zojoji is in the center of Tokyo on the way to Tokyo tower, so it’s quite pretty.
And to finish it all off… Tenya Tempura for good luck!