by Tomomi Dodd
Many Japanese people visit shrines or temples at New Years in a practice called “Hatsu-moude.” “Hatsu” means new or first, and “Moude” means visiting shrines or temples.
Traditionally people are supposed to visit their local shrines or temples. This is because it is believed that the spirits worshipped in local shrines or temples protect their regional areas. However, there is no strict rule, and many people visit big places such as “Meiji Shrine” in Tokyo or “Kawasaki-daishi” in Kanagawa Prefecture. People pray to God/spirits to show them appreciation for the last year and to wish for a good new year. Some people wear kimonos to go to Hatsu-moude. Some people wear new clothes, including underwear, as it is a Japanese custom to refresh oneself in the new year.
It is said that Hatsu-moude became popular in Japan after World War II as the development of transportation progressed. Many people start Hatsu-moude after midnight, despite the cold weather and long lines, as trains operate 24 hours on Dec 31st through Jan 1st , and there will be food trucks waiting for visitors at many temples and shrines.
People also draw fortune slips at shrines or temples. These are called “omikuji.” Each omikuji predicts different levels of luck for the new year: very good luck, good luck, OK luck, bad luck, or extremely bad luck. It also tells your fortune in specific areas of your life, such as health, romance, money, and education. Many people tie them to the trees at the grounds of shrines or temples after reading them, as it is believed you can tie a bond with God by doing so.
I recommend you go to Hatsu-moude if you ever have a chance to visit Japan during the new year.