Planning on a Japanese winter vacation? Then it’s time to start making plans for New Year’s!
For most people in the US or Europe, New Year’s Eve is a time to party with your friends, watch the ball drop on TV, and maybe enjoy some good fire works to celebrate at midnight, and New Year’s Day is a time to recover (if you can). But in Japan, celebrating the New Year is more like how many families celebrate Christmas in the West: family gatherings and lots of time together at home, traditional meals, and a bit of religious ritual.
Many Japanese shrines and temples stay open through the night on New Year’s Eve (omisoka, 大晦日, in Japanese), and some ring bells at midnightーas many as 108 times in a row! As soon as the new year has begun in earnest, shrines and temples are crowded with visitors engaging in traditional hatsumode (初詣), their first shrine or temple visit of the year, from the early hours in the morning through the first few days of the year. If you’d like to celebrate the New Year properly while you visit Japan, prepare your bento box of osechi for lunch, wrap up warm, and head out to one of these popular hatsumode spots!
During our 2020 trip to Kawasaki, we made sure to include a visit to Kawasaki Daishi, which contains Heikenji Temple (平間寺). While this temple complex is certainly busy enough throughout the year, the most popular time to visit is really the beginning of January! Heikenji Temple, along with the similarly popular hatsumode spot Naritasan Shinshoji Temple (成田山新勝寺) in Chiba, is a part of the Shingon sect of Buddhism, which is said to be especially effective at warding off evil. Of course, we all want to start the new year fresh, without the evils of the previous year hanging over us! So it’s no wonder the number of hatsumode visitors at Heikenji can reach 3 million each year.
Don’t forget to pick up some local tontoko candy (とんとこ飴) before heading home for a sweet new year.
Asakusa’s Sensoji Temple was founded in the year 645, making it Tokyo’s oldest temple, and to this day the temple and its shopping street are a massively popular sightseeing destination for travelers in Tokyo. They say the Buddhist image in the temple can help with prosperous business, family safety, academic safety, physical well-being, and preventing disaster, which all sound promising when it comes to starting a new year.
For a slightly more unusual hatsumode spot, head to Shibamata Taishakuten, also called Taishakuten Daikyoji Temple (題経寺), in Tokyo’s Katsushika neighborhood. This Nichiren temple is built around an image of Buddhist figure Taishakuten, but many visitors are equally interested in the ferry boat that stops at the temple, the many wooden sculptures, and the temple road full of nostalgic little shops. Shibamata Taishakuten was lucky enough to be spared during World War II, leaving the old wooden buildings intactーa rare vision of Tokyo before the war.
Shibamata Taishakuten Temple (柴又帝釈天)
7-10-3 Shibamata, Katsushika City, Tokyo
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