Hatsumode (初詣) – Visiting a Shinto Shrine for New Year

Have you ever heard of Hatsumode? It’s a traditional Japanese practice that happens during the New Year. During this time, people visit shrines and temples to pray for good luck and fortune in the coming year. It’s similar to making New Year’s resolutions but in a more spiritual way.

During Hatsumode, people generally offer prayers, make wishes, or purchase amulets or charms for a couple hundred yen to bring them good luck. It is also normal to make small offerings, like food or money, to the shrine or temple. Typically this is in the form of 5 yen or 15 yen. This is because the pronunciation of each sounds like something prosperous in Japanese. It’s a really special and meaningful way for people in Japan to come together and celebrate the start of a new year.

Even if you’re not religious, Hatsumode can be a really nice way to reflect on the past year and set intentions for the year ahead. Who couldn’t use a little extra good luck and happiness in their life?

Entrance to Sumiyoshi Jinja, a Shinto shrine in Fukuoka, Japan.

So where should you go? Every shrine that has staff does something for the New Year. Typically Shrine maidens and monks will offer prayers on behalf of the people, they may bless individuals (also through prayer), and you can hear shrine music. This typically involves Japanese drumming, although different from the kind found in summer events like the Sansa Odori in Morioka.

Hatsumode takes place during Oshougatsu (お正月), which is from 1 January to 3 January. During this time, depending on the shrine, the lines may be long. Especially in places like Tokyo, you may need to wait a very long time. These three days are also holidays (i.e. days off work) in Japan, so many people may be there. Please plan a couple of hours if you would like to participate.

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