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Hatsumode: A Great New Year’s Tradition!

Nic ThibodeauNic Thibodeau
Published Time
Posted on 
January 03, 2018
Meiji Jingu Shrine during hatsumode.

Hatsumode is a Japanese New Year’s tradition that takes place on January 1st. On this day, many Japanese families visit their local Shinto shrine to pray for good fortune.  They also get good luck charms for themselves as well! 

This tradition is just as important as osechi, and it’s integral for families to visit shrines to ring in the new year!  So what is hatsumode, and why is it so special? Let’s find out!

Which Shrines Should You Visit During Hatsumode?

While going to your local shrine is convenient, going to specialized shrines is even better! The most popular shrines in Tokyo include Kanda Shrine, Yushima Tenmangu, and Tokyo Daijingu. Kanda Shrine houses a god that rules over business prosperity; Tenmangu rules over academic success, while Daijingu rules over love.

A twilight picture of Kanda Shrine. The foundation is reddish brown while the roof is green.
People come to Kanda Shrine to pray for business prosperity. Image via Shutterstock

No matter the time of year, it’s very important to practice good etiquette whenever you visit a shrine. Make sure to bow when entering and leaving through the torii gate, and clean yourself by the designated fountain before going to the shrine’s entrance. 

A hand washing their hand with a gold ladle at the shrine.
Always wash up before you enter a shrine. Image via Shutterstock

Once there, toss a five-yen coin in the offering box, ring the bell to greet the gods, then bow twice.  Then clap your hands twice, pray quietly to yourself, then bow once more!  After that, you can go to get your omikuji!

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Omikuji: Traditional Japanese Fortunes

Usually, people visit their local shrines and temples out of convenience. However, many people also make long journeys to popular shrines, like Shibuya’s Meiji Jingu Shrine.

Families get in their car or on the local train, with Japanese snacks in tow, and prepare for this yearly journey. Most of them even wear kimonos for this special trip!

Once at the shrine, many people first flock to get fortune-telling papers, or omikuji, to see what the year has in store for them. They usually cost around 100 yen (0.72 USD). Recently, however, you can get omikuji from vending machines as well.

A woman in a red kimono returning her omikuji by placing it on a string. She got it for hatsumode, but probably doesn't like the fortune she got.
If you don’t like the omikuji, you can always return it. Image via Shutterstock

Omikuji originated in the Heian period, and they were created by the Tendai Buddhist monk Ganzan Daishi (aka Ryogen). Similar to the lottery (kuji), these fortunes are random, and consist of poems that predict the future.

These omikuji are seven levels of luck, ranging from “Great Blessing” to “Misfortune”. Even though most people reference omikuji for their love life, work careers, or studies, they cover a breadth of people’s concerns! If you want to know your luck surrounding travel plans, moving houses, or even how the stock market’s doing, omikuji is a good place to start!

Nevertheless, seeing as how omikuji are indeed part of a lottery, there’s still a high chance that you get one that predicts your misfortune.  But don’t worry! Should you get an unfortunate omikuji, you can leave them behind at a designated tree or string at the temple!

Omamori: Lucky Charms From The Shrine

In addition to omikuji, many people often buy an omamori for hatsumode. They are amulets created by priests.  Usually, they’re small satin bags with small, written prayers inside. There are all kinds of omamori that are used for different purposes! 

Whereas omikuji are for predicting the future, omamori are about ensuring your good luck! Common omamori bring good luck for marriage, traffic safety, good health, and happiness.

A bright pink omamori in the foreground with a gray stature in the background. Many people buy omamori for hatsumode.
Omamori will protect you all year round.. Image via Shutterstock

However, they’re not meant to be used forever. People only use omamori until it becomes damaged, or a year has passed. After that, their powers wear off, and it’s time to get a new one!

There are two ways to dispose of an omamori.  You can either return it to the original shrine so the priests can ceremoniously burn it for you or safely dispose of it yourself.  If you choose the latter, don’t simply chuck it into the trash can!  

Instead, wrap the omamori in rice paper, sprinkle salt on either side of it, then wrap it up and throw it away.  Using an omamori past its prime is generally taboo since you’d carry all the bad luck and energy it absorbed during the past year. So when you’re done, head back to the shrine and get a new one!

We hope you learned a little bit about Japanese culture today! We send you our best wishes and pray that your new year brings you a great fortune! 

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