Japanese New Year holidays usually start from December 29 and go until January 3. During this time, people are busy cleaning their houses, paying their respects and visiting family and friends to exchange gifts. It is also a common practice to spend one of the first 3 days of the new year paying a visit to a shrine. This is better known as “Hatsumode.”
Throngs of people who visit the shrine on the first few days of January create an almost festive atmosphere. Some people visiting the shrines wear kimono, as there are few chances to wear traditional clothes most of the year. There are all sorts of charms (omamori) and talismans which are on sale for people to use in the hopes of having good luck. Old ones can be brought to the shrine so they can be burned. This is a sign of respect to the deity who helped the person during the previous year. Throwing them away is highly discouraged.
Temples which attract many visitors yearly include Meiji Shrine in Tokyo, Fushimi Inari Taisha in Kyoto, Sumiyoshi Taisha in Osaka and Tsuruoka Hachimangu in Kamakura. There are often long lines of people at these major shrines. The event is followed by a celebration (normally at home) of food and drinking sake.
Another custom for the new year is identifying your luck for the upcoming year by choosing your omikuji. These are fortunes that are written on small pieces of paper which are literally known as “sacred lot.” You can get one by paying a small offering (the price may change depending on the shrine you visit). You can randomly choose your omikuji by drawing a stick with a number from inside a box. Everyone hopes for good luck but if you receive a bad luck, don’t forget to tie it onto the tree within the shrine grounds.
Hatsumode is a great way to start the New Year in Japan. It is not only a chance to wear kimono if you wish, but also an unforgettable experience you can’t easily find in other parts of the world.