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A Feature of Japanese New Year—Hatsumode! Let’s take one more look at the rituals and practices of Japan’s traditional religions (Shinto)

While the Japanese new year cannot be celebrated without hatsumode, many of us are amazingly unfamiliar with the etiquettes for it. So, let’s take a look at them and brush them up.

(The following article contains information on rituals and practices that include components based on Japan’s traditional religions (such as Buddhism and Shinto). This content is presented solely for informational purposes; these practices are not enforced in these facilities in any way.)

1. What is Hatsumode? Where are You Supposed to Go?

Hatsumode is a tradition of visiting a shrine or a temple at the beginning of the year to offer new year’s greetings and prayers for a peaceful and healthy year.
The first thing you’re curious about must be whether to visit a shrine or a temple, but just as indefinitely mentioned earlier, it’s all right either way. You might think it can’t be, but a custom to distinguish between temples (Buddhism) and shrines (Shintoism) has been really inexistent since the old time in Japan. Generally, the visit should be made to a local shrine or a temple where a family tomb is. Many people go to shrines nationwide, and the visitor ranking also indicates shrines have more visitors than temples every year. Indeed, it seems that you get the better of luck by visiting one of the most famous shrines in Japan, but keep it in mind that the original purpose is to visit a shrine where a local deity is worshiped or a temple where your ancestors are enshrined, instead of a famous one.

2. When is the Right Time to Visit?

Next, let’s talk about the right time for the visit. Although hatsumode means the first visit of a shrine or a temple of the year, it doesn’t mean you can go anytime of the year. Normally, the visit should be made within the first three days of the new year—the first, second or third of January. However, depending on the locality, the visit can be made by January 7th while kadomatsu (a Japanese new-year pine decoration) is up, or by January 15th. In addition, there is no limit as to the number of your visit. There is no problem in visiting shrines multiple times, so the first visit can be made to a local shrine and the second to a famous shrine.

3. What do You Need to Be Aware of in a Worship Service?

Now, we get into the etiquettes for a worship service.
Let’s start with a case of a shrine visit. By the way, there are not many Japanese people who know the etiqettes very well.
So, there is no need to fret about them. In fact, many people believe that the mindset to pray counts more than manners.
As for a pathway that leads to a shrine, you shouldn’t walk right in the center. The center of the pathway is meant for the deity to walk on. Try to walk on either of the sides when you visit a shrine.
(Then again, it may be impossible to implement it because shrines are extremely crowded during the time of the new year’s first worship…) Next, purify your hands and mouth at temizuya (a water pavilion). (Temizuya is where dippers are placed. Beware, it’s not drinking water!)
Scoop up some water with the dipper in your right hand to wash your left hand. Then, switch the dipper to your left hand to wash your right hand in the same manner. Switch the dipper back to your right hand, and pour some water on your left palm to rinse your mouth with it. (Note that it’s against the etiquettes to put the dipper to your mouth.) Finally, pick up the dipper vertically to let the remaining water run through the handle to purify it, and then return the dipper to the original place.
That would be courteous for others to use it next.

4. The Main Event —Worship Service

First, throw money into the offertory box. There are no rules as to how much money to offer. (It’s just a way to show your gratitude.) Many Japanese people do offer certain amount of money that rhymes with lucky words such as:
5 yen (goen): For good luck in relationship (goen)
10 yen (two of 5 yen coins): For double luck in relationship (goen x 2)
115 yen (read 1 as “i”, “ii” rhymes with good, great etc.): For great luck in relationship (ii goen)
Apparently, five yen coins are used often to pray for good relationships.
The basic way of worshipping is, to bow twice, clap twice, and then bow once again. First, bow deeply twice at the altar. Then, clap your hands twice. Lastly, bow deeply once again.

While there are many rules as to visiting a shrine, it is fine to walk the center of the pathway at a temple. Still, you are supposed to purify your hands and mouth at a temple as well. There are no particular worship etiquettes in temples like in shrines. Just join your hands together, bow, and convey your gratitude and wishes to Buddha.

This post is also available in: Japanese

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