The New Year at Grand Shrines in Japan

Feel like doing your first shrine visit of the year on a grand scale? Try one of these two spots.

Even people who don’t make their way to visit a shrine during the year find time for hatsumode, a visit to the local (or distant) shrine to assure good fortune in the year to come. With lines at some of the more popular spots resembling those outside Macy’s at 4am on Black Friday, hatsumode doesn’t always appeal to foreigners. But, if you really want to try your hatsumode at one of the more revered locations within the Shinto tradition, these two are phenomenal, if far-flung sites, that might persuade even the most stubborn to give it a try, if just once.

izumotaisha

Izumo Taisha, located in Shimane Prefecture, is alleged to be one of the most prominent and important Shinto shrines in all of Japan, is a sprawling complex on the west coast of Japan. This national treasure is believed to have been constructed by descendants of the Sun Goddess Amaterasu. Today, the shrine, heavily forested and embraced by the Chugoku mountain range, still has major connections with the Imperial Family, having just hosted Princess Noriko’s fall wedding. Every January 1 and 3, Izumo Taisha welcomes the New Year with its annual festivals, drawing millions of visitors.

isegrandshrine

Located in Mie Prefecture, Ise Jingu is another Shinto hall of significance. Though widely acclaimed for its autumn rituals and December agricultural festivities, Ise is home to an ancient pilgrimage route, and members of the Imperial Family have reigned as the high priest and priestess since the 7th Century. The complex houses old artifacts and the Sacred Mirror, one of the holiest Shinto items. The nearby village retains rustic Japanese history, with original and replica buildings still in place from centuries ago. Only those of noble birth are allowed into the most hallowed portions of the shrine, but there are more than 100 shrines around the main complex and the city of Ise, making it an ideal spot for hatsumode enthusiasts.

If you can’t make it outside of Tokyo for the New Year, Meiji-Jingu, Jindai-ji, Zojo-ji, and Senso-ji are the go-to places for Tokyo dwellers. Planning to make it to one of these holy sites? Have your own great ideas for how to ring in the year in Tokyo? Send your own photos and a description of your New Year’s adventure, be it traditional or unorthodox: editor@tokyoweekender.com

–Natalie Jacobsen

Images: Andres, Marissa Kirisame, and Kentaro Ohno, respectively, all under CC on Flickr.

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