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New Year Holidays in Japan: Hatsumoude

Date Published: Last Update:2015/05/19 Traditional Culture , , ,

Happy New Year! Everything you do in the first days of the New Year can mean something or will affect the whole year. Hatsu or “first” of something are important according to Japanese culture: the first shrine visit, first dreams, and the first sunrise have impacts on how your year will turn out.

Hatsumoude

Starting from dawn of the New Year’s Day, people flock to shrines and temples to offer prayers and wishes for the New Year, that it will be a healthy and happy year. This ritual is called the hatsumoude (初詣, the second kanji means shrine/temple visit). It is one of the most important rituals in Japanese tradition. The temples and shrines are full of people through the first, second, and third day of the year as they are still most likely to be no-work days.

hatsumoude

People flock to shrines and temples to do hatsumoude during the New Year’s Day. In this picture is the Daibutsuden (大仏殿, Great Buddha Hall) inside Todaiji (東大寺, Eastern Great Temple), a Buddhist Temple in Nara, Japan. (Photo by Jeff Carpenter on Flickr)

Omamori

Aside from offering prayers, people also buy new omamori (お守り, amulet/charm). They also bring those omamori that was bought last year so that they can be burned. These amulets can be dedicated to a certain deity, and may serve to provide various forms of protection and luck. The pouch or covering of the amulet is usually made of cloth with designs related to the dedicated deity.

Omamori image

-Image of general omamori-

Omamori Blessings

Omamori can have a general blessing and protection or it can have specific focus such as:

  • Kaiun (開運) – better luck/fortune
  • Koutsuu-anzen (交通安全) – traffic safety, protection for drivers and travelers
  • Kanai-anzen (家内安全) – well-being of one’s family
  • Yaku-yoke (厄除け) – warding off evil
  • Anzan (安産) – healthy pregnancy and easy childbirth
  • En-musubi (縁結び) – finding a good partner for marriage, or for couples insurance of love and marriage
  • Shoubai-hanjou (商売繁盛) – prosperity in business
  • Gakugyou-joujo (学業乗除) – for education and passing of examinations
Omamori_Protection

An omamori from a shrine in Kumamoto. This item claims to “grant protection” to the user. The logo above denotes a Jōdo Shinshū temple. (Photo and description from Wikipedia)

During the hatsumoude, it is customary to wear a full kimono, especially men which is one of the rare chances to see them wearing a full one across the year.

Omikuji

Another common custom during hatsumoude is to buy a written oracle called omikuji (御神籤). These are random fortunes written on strips of paper which you can get in Buddhist temples and Shrinto shrines. Though you can receive omikuji in any time of the year, many people receive it during hatsumoude.

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When the prediction from the omikuji is bad, it is a custom to fold up the strip of paper and attach it to the pine tree or a wall of wires alongside other bad fortunes inside the temple or shrine premises. (Photo by Kumon on Flickr)

You can receive omikuji by making a small donation which is generally a five-yen coin. Five yen is pronounced as go en (5円) in Japanese which sounds the same as goen (御縁), en (縁) being a word for causal connection or relationship and go (御) is a respectful prefix.

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The 5 yen coin which is regarded as lucky charm and often inserted in wallets to bring good luck. (Photo from Jonathan Baker-Bates on Flickr)

In your country, what do people usually do on the first day of the year? Share it with us in the comments section below!

References:

1. Hatsumōde. Wikipedia.

2. New Year’s Day. Web-Japan.

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