Countries around the globe choose to ring in the new year with a wide variety of traditions. In Japan, New Years is a major holiday, with many associated traditions including Hatsumōde, which means "first shrine (or temple) visit of the year.”
While Americans tend to celebrate on New Year’s Eve, the Japanese celebrate the arrival of the new year on December 31st as well as the first, second, and third days of January.
Japan is home to many, many shrines, and when it comes to Hatsumōde, a single shrine can see millions of visitors. Standing in line can take well over an hour, but the rewards are worth the wait for many.
If you find yourself inside a shrine or temple for Hatsumōde, there are several traditions you can participate in, including doing some soul-searching in the form of making offerings and/or praying.
When it comes to bettering your life for the coming year, temples and shrines offer some items that can help. There’s omamori, a traditional Japanese luck charm and fortunes called omikuji that offer advice. If you have a desire for the New Year, you can write your wish on an ema, a special wooden plaque, and it might just come true.
Of all the many temples shrines in Japan, here are eight popular ones perfect for celebrating Hatsumōde.
1. Meiji Shrine, Tokyo, Japan
Tokyo’s Meiji shrine (also known as Meiji-jingu) is one of the most visited in all of Japan, seeing over 3 million visitors for Hatsumōde alone. It’s dedicated to Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken and is renowned for its convenient central location and peaceful atmosphere.
Neighboring both Harajuku Station and Yoyogi Park, Meiji shrine is surrounded by Meiji Forest, which is home to about 100,000 trees. The shrine also offers plenty of paths for a relaxing and reflective walk around the shrine’s grounds.
If doing traditional acts, marveling at the forest, or taking a peaceful walk doesn’t sound like enough, the shrine also features a museum and an inner garden.
2. Fushimi Inari Taisha, Kyoto, Japan
Of all the inari-stlye shrines that call Japan home—and there are about 30,000—Fushimi Inari Taisha in Kyoto is atop the list. Dedicated to Inari, a Shinto god, the shrine features a number of fox statues (Inari is the god of foxes) and, most notably, its thousands of torii gates called Senbon Torii.
There are also trails up to Mount Inari, where along the way you’ll find smaller shrines with torii gates as well as a handful of restaurants with dishes inspired by the area, like inari sushi and kitsune (fox) udon. (Don’t worry: no foxes were harmed making of this dish!). It’s called fox udon because it contains aburaage (fried tofu), which foxes apparently like.
3. Sumiyoshi Taisha, Osaka, Japan
Also called Sumiyoshi Grand Shrine, this shrine located in Osaka is one of the oldest in Japan—it actually predates Japanese Buddhism.
This shrine is known for both age and beauty thanks to its unique architecture known as Sumiyoshi-zukuri, which features straight instead of curved roofs. Sumiyoshi Taisha is one of only three shrines said to be of this purely Japanese styling.
For a little extra draw, the road leading to the shrine gets packed with market stalls when it’s time for Hutsumōde.
4. Sensoji Temple, Tokyo, Japan
Founded in 628, Sensoji wins the award for Tokyo’s oldest temple. Other than its age, the shrine is known for its Kaminari-mon gates and is one of the most famous shrines in Japan. Approximately 30 million people visit a year, and about 10% of that is for Hatsumōde.
If you choose to visit Sensoji temple on New Year’s Eve, it’ll be crowded, but you’ll get the change to witness monks ring Joya No Kane, when the temple bells ringing out the old year 108 times.
5. Ise Grand Shrine, Mie Prefecture, Japan
Said to be one of Japan’s holiest shrines, this may be the one to visit if you’re looking to feel something especially spiritual. This shrine is considered to be so scared that a chief priest or priestess from the Japanese Imperial Family must pay a visit.
There’s both an inner and outer shrine—the first is dedicated to the sun goddess Amaterasu whose sacred mirror is said to be housed there.
The shrine can also be seen as unique because of its slightly more minimalist design and the fact that the complex houses about 125 smaller shrines.
Another nice reason to visit this shrine for Hatsumōde is Mie Prefecture has a fairly temperate climate, and snow is rare for the area—even in winter!
6. Naritasan Shinshoji Temple, Chiba Prefecture, Japan
Located in Narita, Chiba, this shrine is one of the largest; its grounds cover over 50 acres! Given its size, it hosts multiple temple buildings and each has a different kind of blessing.
At midnight on New Year’s Eve, the temple hosts a ritual where cedar sticks are burned before an idol to ask for peace and safety.
Also, like Fushimi Inari Taisha and its foxes, Naritasan is known for eels and features themed dishes like unaju, an eel rice bowl.
7. Itsukushima Shrine, Hiroshima Prefecture, Japan
Another one of the more unique shrines on this list, Itsukushima is also renowned for its location. The shine is right by the oceanside, and its famous torii actually stands in the ocean!
Itsukushima shrine is a must-see for Hatsumōde, or honestly anytime of the year, because it’s said to be the home of one of Japan’s most gorgeous views, especially during sunset.
8. Kiyomizu-dera, Kyoto, Japan
Located in Kyoto prefecture, this Buddhist temple is one of the most popular among tourists, between its cherry blossoms, fall foliage, and Hatsumōde.
The temple is associated with many Japanese legends, but it’s arguably most famous for its Otowa Waterfall. What’s so special about this waterfall is its three different streams of water which are said to bring three different kinds of luck: academic success, longevity, and love.
While celebrating New Year’s is limited to a single night in the U.S., Hatsumōde and other celebrations occur over four days in Japan. People visit the country’s many shrines for their architecture, atmosphere, views, and legends, but most importantly, to bring good fortune into the new year.
How are you celebrating the New Year? Tell us in the comments!