Here’s a guide that teaches you the ins and out of visiting Harajuku’s Meiji Jingu Shrine!
If you’re in Japan, you’re bound to hear the word “Hatsumode” being tossed here and there as the year draws to an end. Wondering what this is all about? “Hatsumode” commonly refers to praying for a year of health and prosperity at the shrine/temple. Not only is it about the praying — there are other activities that come with it, which comprises picking out an “omikuji,” a slip of paper with your fortune of the year spelled out for you that you choose at random (you can typically draw an “omikuji” throughout the year as well); some may also write their wishes on small wooden plaques called “ema.”
Typically, this is how a Japanese New Year starts off.
But a visit to the shrine? What are the rules?
The whole tradition may be a bit of a mystery to those who aren’t accustomed to the Japanese New Year’s. But don’t worry, Harajuku MOSHI MOSHI BOX’s Babukabon has got your back. Read on to perfectly equip yourself with some knowledge on a traditional Japanese New Year.
The shrine we made a visit to is the one closest to Harajuku station, Meiji Jingu. A total of roughly 10 million people visit this shrine throughout the year, making it Japan’s most visited shrine.
The first three days of the year, a time when shrines throughout Japan clock in with a massive number of visits, the number of Meiji Jingu go-ers round up to roughly 3 million.
So sit back and enjoy the beautiful landscape of the shrine while Babukabon teaches you how to begin and end your shrine visit.
Before you enter the shrine by passing under the “torii,” bow once. (Take off your hat while you’re at it!) The large gate at the entrance or the “torii” is what separates the world from the sacred world. Demonstrate your respect before entering by bowing once here.
Question: When you are walking down the sando (or the road that leads to the Shrine), is there a particular side you should walk on?
Answer: Anywhere besides the center, and you’re good!
Walking down the center of the “sando” is usually a no. The center is referred to as the “seichu” and this path is specifically reserved for the Shinto Gods. Don’t mess with the path of the Gods and keep to the side!
Note that Meiji Jingu is a large shrine, so it takes a while to get to the actual shrine. However, it’s important to be patient and keep your calm while you make your way over. This won’t be particularly difficult when you’re amidst the nature with the giant trees towering over you and the pebble stones underneath your feet. With that said, it’s hard to believe that this shrine also happens to be located in Harajuku, a place we know best as a treasure trove of Japan’s pop culture.
After walking for a while, we spotted a huge tree called the momiki. Apparently this momiki is the origin of “Yoyogi,” what we now know to be the station after Harajuku on the Yamanote line.
What will also appear affront your eyes are barrels of sake offered to the gods – one for the pictures! Apparently the Meiji emperor was a big fan of wine, which explains the wine barrels that you’ll also see lurking in the huge crowd of barrels.
A famous power spot, “Kiyomasano Ido (Kiyomasa’s well)” is located smack in the middle of the walk down the “sando,” so we decided to stop by. Kiyomasa Kato was a warlord, also known to be the “god of soil and trees” and it’s been said his well is supposed to bring luck.
When you reach the main shrine, you’ll find a place to wash your hands, also known as the “chozuya.” Wash your hands here.
- How to Temizu
- 1. Hold the ladle with your right hand, rinse your left.
- 2. Hold the ladle with your left hand, rinse your right.
- 3. Hold the ladle again with your right hand, pour some water in your left and rinse your mouth.
- 4. Place the ladle upwards so it cleanses the part you were holding.
(※ Best to do this with one scoop of water)
And now onto the praying.
- How to pray
- Throw some coins in the “osaisenbako” (offertory box). Note that you can choose how much you put in the box. Typically, the Japanese will put in a 5-yen coin since 5-yen or “go-en”, when read in Japanese, can also mean “luck.”
- 2. Bow twice.
- 3. Clap twice.
- 4. Keep the palm of your hands together and make a wish.
- Bow once.
The point is to bow twice, clap twice, and bow one at the very end. In Japanese, we say “Nirei Nihaku Ichirei.”
Looks like Babukabon made a wish too! What did you wish for?
Here, you can purchase “omamori” (a good luck charm), “ofuda” (a talisman), and “ema” (a small wooden plaque where you can write out your wishes.
If you look closely, each “omamori” serves a different purpose: it can keep the “house safe,” or keep you safe from “road danger,” or it could “bring luck, and keep the devil away.”
This “hatsumode” guide will come to good use for you spending New Year’s in Japan! Let’s make it a great kick-start to 2016!
- A little something to wrap up:
Ta-dah! Here’s my “goshuin,” or insignia stamp. This is a stamp you can purchase at the shrine/temple you visit. The design varies by each temple/shrine, so have fun with it, collect a couple for your very own goshuin collection!
Meiji Jingu Shrine
1-1 Kamizonocho, Yoyogi, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
※ Check their website for their hours
MOSHI MOSHI BOX Staff
Her favorite snack is Ikaten Setonai Lemon Flavor (a toasted snack that tastes like squid)
Her goal of 2016 is to take it easy.
Photos: Yuta Mukaiyama Words: MoMo (SHUTTER)
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