Hatsumoude - First shrine visit of New Year

The entrance gate "torii" of Kumano Shrine was decorated with "shimenawa" (rope for ritual purification).
Nowadays it is very popular to visit a famous shrine or temple on the first day of New Year. We call it "hatsumoude" in Japanese. Meiji Jingu (Meiji Shrine) is for example one of the most popular shrines. However, visiting a famous shrine is rather a new tradition which started in the modern Japan in the 19th century. The more traditional destinations of the New Year's visit were shrines or temples of the local community and I happened to rediscover this old tradition this New Year.

A circular note of the neighborhood informed that Kumano Shrine, the shrine of the old settlement Ozaki, was happy to entertain hatsumoude-visitors in the first hours of the new year with amazake(*) and pop corns.
Amazake is a sweet drink made from fermented rice. It is hot and includes a little amount of alcohol. Therefore, amazake is good for warming up the body and popular in cold winter days. Sometimes a small amount of grated ginger is added to improve the taste and warming effect.
So, we decided to do this year's first shrine visit by visiting Kumano Shrine. Having seen the obligatory TV program "Red and White Song Contest", I and my wife persuaded our daughter who did not want to go out in the cold wind and we all headed for Kumano Shrine.

It did not take as long as I had expected to reach the shrine. 10 minutes before the New Year nobody except for the caretakers of the community shrine was present in the court of the shrine. We found it meaningless to visit the shrine before the New Year and decided to spend several minutes by walking along the Zenpukuji-gawa. When we came back a few minutes before midnight, people gradually gathered in the court of the shrine. All the necessary preparations were already taken and we could warm ourselves at the bonfire after purifying hands with the water of the sacred well.

The start of the New Year should be announced by beating a drum of the shrine, because that was to declare the start of hatsu-moude. However, a caretaker made too much haste and beat the drum already a minute before the New Year and made an excuse to his fellows saying "It was just a rehearsal!".

Visitors were standing in three lines to wait for their turn to pray for a good fortune. The black square box in front of the opening of the shrine's main building is for offerings.
The bell and its colorful rope seen from a different angle.
Omikuji is usually such a long strip of paper which is folded and wrapped in a small paper bag.

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By this moment visitors already started to make a queue in front of the shrine and waited for the New Year. When the drum finally sounded at the right moment they started their first visits. The simple procedure of visiting a shrine starts with throwing money for offering. We can also move the rope hanging from the bell in front of the shrine to toll it. All these sounds should draw attention of the god to the prayers. Then, we should clap hands also twice, pray in mind what we will and finally bow twice again.

Offering money might appear to be frivolous for some very religious people. However, in the Far East the relations with gods are based on give and take. Money is the easiest way of expressing our goodwill to the gods. My daughter saved 5-yen coins for this purpose, because 5-yen is pronounced "go-en" and this means “good connection”. She threw 45 coins, because 45-yen sounds "siju go-en" and this means "always good connection". Just a superstition, but many people are superstitious.

After the pray, we were asked to write down our names and addresses in the guestbook of the shrine - maybe caretakers want to utilize such information - and we could warm our body with amazake and bonfire offered by the shrine.

In a temporary tent, caretakers of the shrine were ready for selling talismans and oracles. On the left there was a table for amazake.

I paid 100 yen and picked a "Omikuji" (written oracle). This year I could pick "Daikichi" (excellent luck). Though I do not take such things so serious, it makes me somewhat happy when I have picked a good oracle. According to the oracle No.11, I can create a good teamwork in the office, get a successful result if I tackle business swiftly, and have smooth human relations and good health.

No bad start for the New Year of Tiger.