初詣: First shrine visit of the new year

How2: Hatsumode in Nabari

While living in Japan, it is inevitable that you will pick up some good and some bad habits- it’s just how it goes. One habit that I adore, and will miss, is Hatsumoude or visiting a shrine at the beginning of January.

A Shrine worker stoking the fire

Hatsumoude is held at most if not all shrines across Japan and each shrine offers a different benefit such as business success, transportation safety, academia etc.

The main shrine in Nabari city is Urufu Shrine, located in the Hirao district of Nabari. The main benefit of performing Hatsumode at this shrine is transportation safety (交通安全) and charms (お守り) can be bought (and were bought) for 500 JPY to help ensure your safety.

Upon arrival, I was greeted with a massive bonfire, which had the delightful job of keeping me warm while I waited for midnight to welcome in the new year. A tent was set up which offered sake, sweet sake and dried fish (all of which were delicious!).

Everyone was enjoying the fine heat and looking at our phones to see when the clock struck midnight. Suddenly many people seemed to quietly erupt with the phrase “あけおめ” or an informal happy new year. There was quite a queue to pray and thank the kami for the previous year and for help with the coming. Naturally, I took lots of photos, but they were terrible- so I had to visit another shrine.

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積田神社 or Sekita Shrine

Sekita Shrine is an ancient shrine with a 1250 year-old history and it is dedicated to the Shinto Kami Kashimaookami (鹿島大神). It is said that in ancient times before the opening of the heavens and the earth, Kashimaookami was appointed by Tenso Tenjin and descended from the heavens to earth (or from Takamagahara).

Kashimaookami is particularly known for their protection of the Tohoku region (northern man-land Japan) and has been worshipped as a god of military arts and equal to the god of thunder (war). More modern depictions include the phrase “鹿島立ち” meaning to set off on a journey and as a god who will protect you on your journey- or a perfect kami to ask for protection when travelling back to the UK.

A bonfire is still burning 2 days later

When entering a shrine, you are expected to purify yourself with hand washing (post to come) and when coming up to the shrine, make an offering of saisen (賽銭) or donations into the donation box or offertory box (賽銭箱- the kanji is a bit literal). Luck donation amounts are usually considered to be 5, 50 , or 500 JPY(the ‘best’ donation is 9 5 JPY coins- a good fate from beginning to end). But why 5 yen coins?

5 yen in Japanese is pronounced go-en (五円) and guess what this is the same as? If you guessed Pulmonary aspiration- 誤嚥 (swallowing the wrong way) go try to brilliant medical Japanese skills but I meant ご縁 or luck/ fortune.

After praying or asking a kami for a wish, it is traditional to get an Omikuji or fortune for the year ahead. Fortunes cost 100 JPY and it is either a ‘lucky dip’ or shaking a wooden contained until a wooden rod emerges with a number which corresponds to a fortune.

If your fortune is bad, you have the option of keeping it- it is an option- or tying it to a rope at a shrine to keep the bad fortune enshrined there instead.

Omikuji will give you a complete fortune and advise on matters from academic success, financial success, matters of the heart, travel, health etc- in much more detail than a horoscope (AN I did write “horror scope” but that would be a bit morbid now wouldn’t it).

Finally, I would like to wish you all a very happy new year from Nabari and Japan or in Japanese: 新年あけましておめでとうございます.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring in 2020!

Nabari City
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