2015 is rolling and everyone is probably recovering from the New Year’s festivities….I know I certainly am. If you ever find yourself in Shibuya on New Year’s Eve definitely hit up the British pub, “HUB.” You will not be disappointed.
Anyways, New Year’s is arguably the most important holiday time in Japan, as it represents the ending of one year and the beginning of a new year and new beginnings. During this time, Japanese families tend to return home to their families and spend the time together. However, western-style New Years parties and other shenanigans are gaining a lot of traction in Japan and every year more people rage on till the early hours of the morning or until the first trains can take them home :).
While these parties certainly occur, the most common activity of New Years night is waiting until midnight and visiting a shrine for the first shrine visit of the year! This is called Hatsumode and I was lucky enough to visit Tokyo’s historic Meiji Shrine for my very first Hatsumode!First off, Meiji Jingu (Meiji Shrine) is amazing. Its in a central forest between the Tokyo inner city districts of Shinjuu and Harujukuu but remains completely isolated due to the dense foliage. We basically came in the back entrance to the forest…and got a little lost.
After walking through the forest and following the decorations (we had no idea where to go) we ended up at the temple entrance. There were hundreds of people!
We were there a little early and had just left that British pub, so we were pretty content to people watch and walk around for a bit. The only problem was…we were packed tight like sardines.
Not wanting to wait around for much longer, we ended up walking out into the park outskirts, getting some yakisoba and finally finding some random underground Italian restaurant to spend the rest of the night until midnight. My god it was great. The restaurant was deserted save for some regulars who were happy to bring us Japanese New Year’s soba (a cultural tradition) and explain the tv show they were all watching (a New Years tradition, as well). I swear it was like being one of those extras you see in Friends who are just sipping their coffee behind the gang.
The next day Lexi and I returned to Meiji Shrine and participated in the full blown Hatsumode experience. There were even more people in the morning than at midnight; hundreds and hundreds of people were lined up and quartered into blocks.
Each group was allowed to enter the temple about five minutes after the previous group until they were stopped right inside the main courtyard for another 5 minutes until the next portion of the temple opened up. It was incredibly organized.
Once you get to the back of the courtyard you gather together to throw loose change in a central area. After throwing your change you offer a prayer in the hopes that its answered for the oncoming year.
Afterwards, you head out to the right side of the shrine and walk through row upon row of stalls selling all kinds of charms and New Year’s fortunes.
This year is the year of the Sheep so Lexi and I bought a New Year’s arrow and a sheep plaque!
After walking out of the temple grounds and back through the forest we finally found the food stands. My god they were everywhere selling everything you could ever want. Yakisoba, meatballs, Japanese noodels, Turkish kebab, crepes, and even seafood stews!
Oh and of course there were sake and beer stands everywhere, as well.
Later, Lexi and I visited the Senso-ji Temple in another part of Tokyo and I finally got a fortune that had English on it…it was horrible. Basically, throughout this year my marriage would be in jeopardy, my job would be filled with conflict, and I would be struck with financial problems.
Naturally, i decided to tie that baby up to get rid of the bad fortune. Thank god whoever invented this 100yen fortune thing also made a get out of jail free option!
Regardless of the bad fortune, I felt truly blessed to experience this tradition in Japan and with so many helpful strangers. If you ever find yourself wanting to come to Japan I definitely recommend New Year’s, you will NOT be disappointed!