Answers to Your Questions! Seven Mysterious New Year’s Traditions in Japan (Part 1)

Here are detailed answers to questions that might have arisen when observing Japanese New Year celebrations.

First, let us resolve the basic questions about hatsumode, shrine or temple visits in the New Year season made by the Japanese.
Question 1: Why do the Japanese visit temples and shrines on New Year’s?
How come the Japanese take hours visiting shrines on New Year’s, but they usually seem like not very much interested in religious practices?
There are two basic reasons behind the shrine or temple visits on New Year's.
Firstly, to express gratitude for safely getting through the previous year.
Secondly, wish for health and happiness in the new year.
Whenever you see someone bowing, or putting their hands together, that means they are expressing their gratitude and making a wish.
However, the reasons why the Japanese depart on hatsumode have changed over time. These are the main reasons given by the modern-day Japanese themselves, about why they really go on hatsumode.

• To go on a date
• To see the stands
• To meet with friends
• To pray
• To spend free time

Many people want to visit a shrine or a temple as soon as the date changes from the New Year’s Eve to the New Year’s Day, that is why the sacred places become engulfed in a festive tone even though it is the middle of the night. In popular hatsumode shrines and temples, waiting to reach the spot of worship may take even up to 13 hours.

Top 10 Hatsumode spots in Japan
1. 3.14 million Naritasan Shinshoji (Chiba)
2. 3.12 million Meiji Jingu (Tokyo)
3. 3.1 million Kawasakidaishi (Kanagawa)
4. 2.95 million Sensoji (Tokyo)
5. 2.5 million Fushimiinaritaisha (Kyoto)
5. 2.5 million Tsuruokahachimangu (Kanagawa)
7. 2.32 million Sumiyoshitaisha (Osaka)
8. 2.3 million Atsutajingu (Aichi)
9. 2.2 million Musashi Ichinomiya Hikawajinja (Saitama)
10. 2 million Dazaifutenmangu (Fukuoka)
10. 2 million Miyajidake jinja (Fukuoka)
If you prefer a shorter waiting time, it might be better to choose a smaller shrine. Even small shrines offer street stands during the New Year period, so they are highly recommended to those who wish to enjoy the festivities light-heartedly. On a side note, if you wish to offer a prayer, you can either go to a shrine or to a temple.
When you are visiting Japan during the new year season, you are kindly invited to follow the Japanese customs and visit a shrine or a temple to pray for happiness.
Question 2: Does Everyone Go on 'Hatsumode'?
According to a survey, about 80% of the Japanese go on hatsumode. (d-Point Club Survey)
In recent years, the number of visitors to temples and shrines is increasing also through “power spot” and “stamp collection” trends.
Question 3: What is essential at 'Hatsumode'?
According to a survey, Japanese do the following things on hatsumode:

1. Draw a fortune slip.
2. Buy a charm.
3. Buy a paper talisman.
4. Buy a decorative arrow which is used to drive off evil.
5. Bathe in incense smoke.

“Drawing a fortune slip”, which ranks first, means to receive divine words. The slip shows your condition and destiny at the moment you draw it. Before drawing your fortune slip, say the following prayer: “Please tell me about my ...”
There is an old saying in Japan, “the whole year’s plan should be made in new year’s day”. In Japan, gods are collectively called “yaoyorozu no kami” meaning "myriad", the gods might grant your wish. Plan your visit in the New Year in Japan, begin with new goals, make best wishes and enjoy in these exclusive New Year traditions unique to Japan.

We introduced some basic information related with questions foreigners have about the Japanese New Year.
New Year is the best season to experience the riches of the Japanese culture and customs. If you go on hatsumode, you will be able to enjoy in exclusive experience and unique New-Year shopping.
If you are in Japan for the New Year’s, then hatsumode is a must!
We provide an even more in-depth description of experience that you can have only in shrines and temples in Japan & during the New Year’s, so make sure to read the Answers to Your Questions! Seven Mysterious New Year’s Traditions in Japan (Part 2) as well!