Okay last post I talked about a more commercial aspect of New Year in Japan but now I want to talk about the more traditional New Year activities. This New Year I went to Tokyo because it’s also my birthday and I wanted to spend time with my friends there. After getting suitably drunk and then sleeping it off as is our tradition, me and my friends went to do one of the most important New Year activities in Japan, hatsumode. This is the first shrine visit of the year and because everyone goes within a couple of days of new year you can expect it to be very busy. Also, where I was staying in Tokyo, the nearest shrine was actually one of the most famous in Japan, Meiji Jingu. I used to live nearby and it was always crazy busy but I feel like this year especially it was so well organized that it was actually lots of fun. I also didn’t go until around 5 pm when most people were already done.
I didn’t take loads of photos because it was really really cold and my hands were shaking too much to take a good one. Also I didn’t want to hold people up so once we arrived at the shrine me and my friends quickly washed our hands (so.cold!) and went to pay our respects/make our wishes for the year. I recommend having your money ready if you’re going to a busy shrine, hatsumode or no, because there’s only so much space for people to pay their respects and throw their money and it’s annoying to be waiting beside someone who is rifling through their purse.
After that we went to go and buy mikuji. Normally, mikuji tell you your luck for the year but thankfully the ones at Meiji Jingu were not really mikuji I guess because they were actually advice for your spirit. I say thankfully because I’m not super superstitious but I don’t feel like being told I have bad luck on the first day of a new year (that also happens to be my birthday). If you don’t know how to get mikuji you pay money to have a turn shaking a wooden box until a stick comes out of the hole at one end. Pull the stick until you can see the number written on it (don’t pull it fully out) and you tell the shrine maiden/staff and they will give you the corresponding paper. Once you have read it you go and tie it on either branches or strings, depending on how the shrine is set up. My friend also bought Ema which is a wooden board that you can write your wishes on and also tie it up. I didn’t get one because they cost like 800 yen and my hands were too cold to write anything anyway. For the new year the boards had sheep on the back which was super cute.
After we finished at the shrine me and my friends hurried to one of the few cafes that were open. A lot of stores were actually open on New Years (unlike on Christmas in my home country) but they closed much earlier than usual. The cafe we went to was really nice though and had really gorgeous cake.
Most Japanese people spend New Year with their families. Apart from Hatsumode they also eat Osechi ryori (New Year Food that is very pretty and every dish has meaning. It is meant to last for 3 days so nobody has to cook during the New Year period) and Zoni (soup with mochi in it. Killed 9 people this year but so yummy!) and play games like Karuta (sort of like snap with poetry). Japanese New Year is one of those events I have a love/hate relationship with. If you are with people it is so much fun and as joyful as Christmas but if you are alone it is quite depressing and there isn’t much to do. If you get a chance and have close Japanese friends, hopefully one day you can experience a more traditional Japanese New Year.