Hatsumode -The first shrine/temple visit of the year –

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What is Hatsumode?

Hatsumode (初詣) is what people visit a shrine or a temple for the first time of the year to give thanks for the past year or to pray for a good fortune in the coming year. This is one of the most popular Japanese traditional events. Therefore, even non-religious people go Hatsumode (初詣) with their family, friends and lovers.

Japanese new year is originally for welcoming Year gods (歳神様 toshigami-sama) who bring happiness to our houses. There are many ways to prepare for Japanese New Year, but one of the preparations is to put Kadomatsu (門松), a decoration made with pine tree branches, in front of our front doors so that the Year gods (歳神様 toshigami-sama) will come down aiming the Kadomatsu (門松) and also dwell on those.

When to visit?

Since most of Japanese people are off work from December 29th until January 3rd every year, it is very common for us to go Hatsumode (初詣) on the January 1st, 2nd and 3rd. Therefore, the Year gods (歳神様 toshigami-sama) stay until Matsunouchi (松の内 ) season so that people still go Hatsumode (初詣) during then. Matsunouchi (松の内 ) is a season when people display Kadomatsu(門松) outside for the Year gods (歳神様 toshigami-sama). It depends on the area but is usually from 7th to 15th January. Thus, it is said that we should get Hatsumode (初詣) done during the Matsunouchi (松の内 ) season. Nevertheless, there’s no rule about when to go “Hatsumode” , but it’s certain that most of Japanese people get in done within January.

What to wear?

There is no dress code for Hatsumode (初詣). Most of people in Japan wear casual when we go Hatsumode (初詣). Some may wear traditional Kimono (着物) but cannot be seen often.

Shrine or Temple?

Let me get to the point first, shrine or temple doesn’t matter. Besides, you can visit as many as shrines or temples you’d like because some people do believe that the more they visit, the more blessing they will get. Incidentally, there is a saying about temple visit that you will get more luck if you visit the one your zodiac is enshrined.

Worship etiquette ~ Shrine version ~

Pass under the Torii gate

A Torii gate is a boundary between sacred and secular world so once you pass through the gate that means you enter sacred area. Therefore, we bow lightly before entering Torii gate to show some respect for Shinto-gods (神様 kamis-ama) who dwell in the shrine.

Torii gate

The approach from the Torii gate to a Honden (本殿) the main shrine is called Sando (参道). The middle part of the Sando(参道) is a path way for Shinto-gods (神様 kamis-ama) so we avoid to walk in the middle.

People avoid to walk in the middle of Sando (参道)
Purify yourself

There is a purification pavilion called Temizuya (手水舎) in any shrines to purify our body and mind. Temizuya (手水舎) is also called Temizusya, Chozuya, Chozusya and so on depending on the shrine, but all of them look like the picture below.

There are some ladles called Hisyaku (柄杓) in the purification pavilion. There are the steps we go through using the ladles to purify our body and mind before we go worship at the Honden (本殿) .


Steps to purify your body and mind

  • Take a ladle with your right hand.
  • Fill it with some water from the purification pavilion, and pour it over your left hand.
  • Switch hand and do the same process to your right hand.
  • Have the ladle in your right hand again, and pour some water to your left hand palm. Then touch your mouth slightly with it. It would look like you are almost drinking the water.
    ⚠︎Don’t touch your mouth to the ladle directly or drink the water.
  • Pour some water on your left hand again, hold the ladle vertically and let the water run down to wash the handle. Then put the ladle back to where it was.

After we purified ourselves, we are allowed to pray at Hondo (本堂) the main temple.

(本殿) the main shrine
Worshipping

After we purified ourselves, we are finally able to worship at the Honden (本殿) the main shrine. To worship, we do “Two bows, two claps and one bow” (二拝二拍手一拝).


Steps to worship at a shrine

  • Bow lightly.
  • Gently, toss some coins into an offertory box.
    ⚠︎Don’t put your hands in the box because there might be a security sensor.
    We usually offer 5 yen coin. Because we pronounce it as “Goen” which means “good connections” and it is considered to be a good fortune.
    But you can offer any Japanese coins or bills.
  • Shake a rope and ring the bell.
  • Bow deeply twice, clap your hands twice, put your hand together and pray.
    As we say, “Two bows, two claps and one bow” (二拝二拍手一拝).
  • Bow deeply at the end.

Japanese 5 yen
offertory box (賽銭箱 Saisen-bako)

When you leave the temple, look at the Honden (本殿) and bow slightly, then pass through the Torii gate.

Worship etiquette ~ Temple version ~

Pass under the Sanmon

Just like shrines, there are gates called Sanmon (山門) at temples. Sanmon (山門) is also a boundary between sacred and secular world so once you pass through the gate that means you enter sacred area. We put our hands together and bow lightly before entering Sanmon (山門) to show some respect for Buddha (仏様 Hotoke-sama), and try not to step on the threshold as we go through the gate. The approach from the Sanmon (山門) to Hondo (本堂) the main temple, is called Sando (参道). The middle part of the Sando(参道) is a path way for Buddha (仏様 Hotoke-sama) so we avoid to walk in the middle just like we do in a shrine as well.

Sanmon (山門) in Kiyomizu-dera (清水寺) in Kyoto, Japan
Purify yourself

For this step, we do exactly the same as shrines.

Stroke the bell

There is a huge bell called Bonsho(梵鐘) in any temples. We stroke the bell if the temple allow us to do, but some temples forbid people to stroke the bell for some reasons.

The bell was originally used for letting people know beginning and end of the day or for events. Therefore, some temples prohibit people to stroke the bell in order not to give their neighbors misunderstanding by the bell sound, or simply not to surprise neighbors because the bells sound quit loud. On the other hand, some temples allow people to stroke the bell freely because Bonsho(梵鐘) represents “Buddha’s voice” so they think that anyone can hear the “voice”, or just to commemorate one’e trip to the temple.

huge bell called Bonsho(梵鐘)
Worshipping

If there is an incense burner called Jyokoro (常香炉), we offer an incense or a candle and wave the smoke over and purify our body.

Jyokoro (常香炉)

After we purified ourselves, we are allowed to pray at Hondo (本堂) the main temple.

Hondo (本堂) the main temple


Steps to worship at a temple

  1. Bow lightly.
  2. Gently, toss some coins into an offertory box.
    ⚠︎Don’t put your hands in the box because there might be a security sensor.
    We usually offer 5 yen coin. Because we pronounce it as “Goen” which means “good connections” and it is considered to be a good fortune.
    But you can offer any Japanese coins or bills.
  3. If there is a gong called Waniguchi (鰐口), hit it once.
  4. Put your hands together and pray.
    ⚠︎Don’t clap your hands.
  5. Bow deeply at the end.
  • gong called Waniguchi (鰐口)

  • When you leave the temple, bow slightly before you pass through Sanmon (山門), then pass through without stepping on the threshold.

    Read your fortune of the year

    After we get worship done, we typically go draw fortune slips called Omikuji (おみくじ).

    Omikuji (おみくじ) indicates messages from Shinto-gods (神様 kamis-ama) or Buddha (仏様 Hotoke-sama) for one’s overall fortune and fortunes for individual matters such as health, study, business, moving, marriage and lost things.

    After reading those messages, we tie them on the fence but you can also bring them home.

    There are so many rules to worship Japanese or Temples, but I think you don’t have to follow them all as long as you have some respect for the place and gods.

    I hope you will just take it easy and enjoy the Hatsumode (初詣).

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