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Hatsumode is the first shrine visit of the Japanese New Year. Traditionally, it’s a Shinto shrine, but as far as I can tell, it’s okay to visit a Buddhist shrine like Narita-san Shinsho-ji as well.
I was originally thinking about visiting the temple on New Year’s Eve, but I instead decided to go early in the morning to also watch the first sunrise of the year (hatsuhinode) from the temple (and the fact that there was no way I was going to be able to stay out until 3am on New Year’s Eve).
Even before sunrise, there were tons of people walking around Narita and at the temple.
I made an obligatory stop to waft smoke on myself, as that’s supposed to be good for you.
There were tons of people throwing coins in the offering hall and praying, so I joined in to make an offering and wish for good fortune in the new year.
Around this time, there were huge crowds forming to watch the sunrise. It was a surreal experience to be part of a mass of people looking in the same direction, waiting for the sun to make its first appearance of the year.
And of course, seeing as it’s now 2014, people of all ages had a phone/camera/tablet out to make sure to memorialize the moment. I was more interested in photographing the people photographing the sunrise, but I couldn’t resist taking a photo or two for myself.
After watching the sunrise, I walked around the temple grounds. It felt festive and joyous and full of hope for the new year. I walked over to a place to get omikuji, or written fortunes for the year, but I decided not to tempt my luck and just wait to see what this year will bring.
If you’re in Japan for the new year, you should definitely make it a point to stop by a shrine and experience hatsumode.