Hatsumode: The First Visit to a Shrine of the New Year

(Japanese New Year’s Celebration) Hatsumode: The First Visit to a Shrine of the New Year (初詣)

Hatsumode: The First Visit to a Shrine of the New Year

Hatsumode is usually thought of as January 1st, although it can be a few days later. People visit a shrine or sometimes temple and pray for comfort and health in the new year. It is very common to see women in kimono and quite a few men too.

In photographing the shrine in it’s New Year’s get-up and the goings on of the visitors, I was very struck by how prominent food and drink is a part of this cultural and religious celebration. We visited Shimogamo Shrine, a UNESO World Heritage Site in the north of the city, in the early afternoon of January 1st.

People Entering the Shrine to PrayHatsumode: The First Visit to a Shrine of the New Year

Hatsumode Crowd
Hatsumode: The First Visit to a Shrine of the New Year
The lad in white is directing visitors to move along and keep order.

Praying
Hatsumode: The First Visit to a Shrine of the New Year
Pictured here is the shrine for people born in the year of the Sheep or Snake. In Japanese this is called eto (干支), the 12 zodiac animals, this of course, comes from China. But the actual shrine and it’s shinto religion are native to Japan. This is another example of how Japanese mix and match native and foreign cultural elements.

Shopping
Hatsumode: The First Visit to a Shrine of the New Year
All sorts of talismans and charms are for sale to help usher in and retain happiness and prosperity in the new year. From tiny items placed in a wallet or coin purse, attached to a mobile telephone or school bag to large items that are attached to a wall in a prominent place in the home.

New Year’s Offerings of Food and Drink
Hatsumode: The First Visit to a Shrine of the New Year
Drink consists of mainly sake, given by companies and individuals.

Chinese White Cabbage and Cases of Beer
Hatsumode: The First Visit to a Shrine of the New Year
The cabbages, called hakusai in Japanese, literally ‘white vegetable’ are from an individual, and the Asahi Super Dry Beer is from Asahi Beer Corporation.

Offerings of Mochi and Sake
Hatsumode: The First Visit to a Shrine of the New Year
The two red and black containers on the upper left are lacquered ritual containers of sake, an offering from a local photo studio.

Offerings of Sake
Hatsumode: The First Visit to a Shrine of the New Year

Hundreds of Bottles of Sake
Hatsumode: The First Visit to a Shrine of the New Year

Near the Main Gate of the Shrine Offerings of Rice
Hatsumode: The First Visit to a Shrine of the New Year

Offerings of Rice in Traditional Woven Straw BailsHatsumode: The First Visit to a Shrine of the New Year
The names of the donors are written on the wooden plaques, mostly area restaurants and inns (ryokan).

Offerings of Rice – Detail
Hatsumode: The First Visit to a Shrine of the New Year
A life insurance company and the Shimogamo Shine Ladies Associations have offered these bails.

Outside the Main Gate, Enjoying Amazake
Hatsumode: The First Visit to a Shrine of the New Year
On the right, people sit down to enjoy amazake (甘酒), literally sweet sake. Amazake is served hot and with a bit of grated ginger, it warms up the shrine goers.

Amazake Served on a Wooden Tray
Hatsumode: The First Visit to a Shrine of the New Year
Amazake is very thick and needs to be stirred while drunk, hence the wooden stick.

Oshogatsu Waiter
Hatsumode: The First Visit to a Shrine of the New Year
The boy in white standing is a waiter, notice his boy scouts uniform underneath.

People Washing Their Hands and Drinking Water at the Entrance to the ShrineHatsumode: The First Visit to a Shrine of the New Year
This is an essential purification ritual done by Japanese upon entering the precinct of a shrine. Japanese have a religious devotion to cleanliness, this is surely one of the reasons that so many kinds of food can be enjoyed raw in Japan.

Stoking the Fire
Hatsumode: The First Visit to a Shrine of the New Year
Visitors stop to warm themselves by the fire. This fire will be burned continuously for about three and a half days, during the peak of hatsumode.

Omikuji
Hatsumode: The First Visit to a Shrine of the New Year
Omikuji, literally ‘sacred lottery’ predicts the year’s fortune and comes in a vast variety, depending on region and shrine. The visitor’s fortune for the year is obtained randomly by various methods and is written on a piece of paper. The paper fortune is tied to sticks, ropes, tree branches, etc somewhere on the grounds of the shrine. There are 12 different possible fortunes available, ranging from very good to very bad. The ones with good fortune are often taken home and the bad ones invariably left at the shrine.

Food Stands
Hatsumode: The First Visit to a Shrine of the New Year
Food stands line the path in and out of the shrine and visitors snack on various treats after praying.

Ichimi and Shichimi For Sale
Hatsumode: The First Visit to a Shrine of the New Year
Ichimi, one spice and shichimi, seven spice for sale. Japanese food is rarely spicy, when it is it is on account of ichimi or ihichimi. These chili, or togarashi based spices are most commonly sprinkled on noodle and nabe dishes.

Baked Sweet Potatoes
Hatsumode: The First Visit to a Shrine of the New Year
Japanese love baked sweet potatoes in the winter.

Tsukemono – Japanese Pickles
Hatsumode: The First Visit to a Shrine of the New Year

The Orange Torii Gate of the Shrine Can Be Seen in the BackgroundHatsumode: The First Visit to a Shrine of the New Year

Yakisoba
Hatsumode: The First Visit to a Shrine of the New Year
Yakisoba, fried Chinese soba/ramen noodles are always popular in Japan. Here it is served on a shrimp flavored rice cracker with a sunny side up egg on top. We tried one of these, not bad.

Coffee and Sake Bar?
Hatsumode: The First Visit to a Shrine of the New Year
Getting modern on us! Even chai (from San Francisco) and hot cocoa!

Young Shrine Goers
Hatsumode: The First Visit to a Shrine of the New Year
The young lady wears a kimono in the winter style with fur (probably not real), the couple are enjoying some snacks purchased at the food stands.

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