Hatsumode – the first temple visit of the New Year

The fun with Japanese New Year doesn’t end with January 1st. There are a lot of traditions that come after. People often enjoy the famous yearly marathon called Ekiden, eat lots of osechi-ryōri:

Happy 2011!

…and of course make their first visit of the year to a Buddhist temple or Shinto Shrine for good luck in the coming year. This is called hatsumōdé (初詣).

After the false start we had around New Year’s Eve, due to the little one getting the flu, things got back on track. Our little girl bounced back after some good advice from Dr. Sears (as usual :) ) and we decided to go out on the 3rd of January, the last official “day” of New Year’s in Japan. At first we were going to go to Sensōji Temple in Tokyo, a perennial favorite that we have visited in the past, but at the last minute, we decided to go to the city of Kamakura instead. From my wife’s house in Kawasaki City, near Tokyo, we have to change trains 3-4 times to get to Sensōji, but only twice to get to Kamakura (Yokosuka Line is very useful from Musashi-Kosugi station). The latter is longer, but you can sit more and change trains less.

So, by far the most famous Shinto Shrine in old Kamakura city is none other than Tsurugaoka Hachimangū Shrine. I think I haven’t been there since 2007, so we were overdue for a visit. ;) The central kami of Hachimangū is the ancient god of war, Hachiman. In a very use-case example of Buddhist-Shinto synthesis in medieval times, Hachiman was absorbed by Buddhism and became a Buddhist Bodhisattva and protector of the nation. You can even see references to Hachiman in the excellent epic Tales of the Heike, but in the Meiji Period (1868-1912) Buddhism and Shinto were forcibly separated into today’s present state and Hachiman reverted to a purely Shinto kami.

Anyway, Hachimangū Shrine is always busy any time of the year, but like many of the big-name temples and shrines in Japan, it becomes absolutely saturated in the first three days of the New Year. This is photo I took as we first entered the shrine compound:

Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine

The actual shrine is the elevated one wayyyyyyyyy in the back. The traffic was very stop-and-go as local police allowed people through in waves. I was carrying my four-year-old on my arm for 45 minutes before we finally got to the grand stairs:

Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine 2

And finally when we got to the top of the stairs, I looked back and took this photo:

Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine 3

Inside the shrine itself, where photos aren’t allowed (sorry), we were packed in very tight around the offering box before the inner-shrine where Hachiman was venerated. My wife, daughter and I managed to eventually get to the front and make a small offering and prayer. People behind us were tossing coins into the offering box from a distance though, unable to get closer, and as I shuffled off to the side, I barely dodged some flying money that almost hit my face! It was like that famous scene in The Matrix where Neo dodges bullets, but much fatter and dorkier. ;)

Once our visit was complete, we got around to the side and tried our luck with the local omikuji (おみくじ), which are little fortune-telling boxes. My wife got kyō (凶) or bad luck, while my daughter got suekichi (末吉) which is kind of indeterminate luck, but usually turns out better later (or so my father-in-law said). I got kichi (吉) or good luck, though last year I got daikichi (大吉, “great luck”) at Yushima Tenmangū Shrine in Tokyo. I know where I’ll be taking my business next year! ;)

In particular, my little omikuji fortune warned me not to move this year and that unless I study like hell, I’ll fail an important exam. Sounds like I have to really hit the books this year to pass the JLPT N2!

Anyway, from there we did a lot of other things in Kamakura, but too much to cover here. I’ll explain the whole “day trip” in an upcoming post. :)

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About Doug

A fellow who dwells upon the Pale Blue Dot who spends his days obsessing over things like Buddhism, KPop music, foreign languages, BSD UNIX and science fiction.
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