2013, The Year of the Snake

2013 Year of the Snake-11Just like every year since I moved to Japan back in 2008, 2013 started for me by a visit to the Hie Jinja. And just like every year, there was a huge crowd waiting for praying and making some wishes for the coming year.

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If people keep on coming back, I guess their wishes must have come true 🙂

Hie Jinja has always been one of my favorite shrines. It’s certainly not the most beautiful, but it is simple and welcoming. Also, it is guarded by some famous monkey statues, which i guess is worth a few extra points for me by itself 😉

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Anyway, I decided this year to take an extra-step, and instead of praying in front of the shrine, as usual, I actually went inside the shrine to receive some sort of special “blessing” by a Shinto priest. Since there are so many people asking for it, groups of around 40 people have to succeed themselves inside the shrines, for 20min-long praying sessions. Behind us, we could see the people praying from the outside behind the curtain.

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Inside, we had to sit on our knees and bow respectfully while the priest was giving us some blessing by singing some sort of litany including everyone’s full name and full address (that you have to provide when you register)! That was quite a suprise to me, and as my knees were getting soar I was hoping that most people had short addresses…

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Obviously, if you want to do this specific prayer, you have to give some money to the shrine, and the amount will actually depend on the shrine you go to. But, on top of the “blessing”, you will also get a bag full of gifts/standard new year items. I basically got a hamaya (“demon-breaking arrow”), some good-luck charms, some sake, some biscuits and a little plastic snake.

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If you don’t to do the special “blessing” inside the shrine, you can still buy all of these separately, including the must-have hamaya.

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The hamaya comes with a label, on which you can write what you wish. Then, you need the arrow to get “blessed”  by a small ritual.

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Of course, you can’t start a year with a visit to the shrine without getting your fortune told by an omikuji. These are small strips of papers that will give you a full outlook for the coming year regarding health, happiness, work, money, love… If you don’t like the fortune your omikuji is promising to you, just tie it on the dedicated strings (that you will recognize thanks to all the other omikuji already attached there), and you will be protected.

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The gift bag from the shrine also came with a voucher for the shrine’s restaurant, so I concluded my 2013 “new year ritual” with some special edition of Sapporo beer. 🙂

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With all these lucky charms, prayers and blessings, I am set for a fantastic 2013 😉
By the way, don’t forget to return to the shrine your lucky charms from the year before…

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New Year in Japan

If in the West Christmas is more a “family day” while New Year’s eve is usually more enjoyed with friends, it is fair to say that the situation is reversed in Japan. Indeed, many Japanese go back to their hometown to visit their family during this period.

KadomatsuAfter Christmas, kadomatsu, decorative arrangements of typically bamboo shoots and pine sprigs tied together, are placed in pairs in front of homes and offices, and will remain there for around 2 weeks, to welcome the toshigami (spirit of the new year). The bamboo is said to symbolize growth and strength, while the pine represents longevity.

Hie Jinja entranceThough it is popular to watch music shows on TV on new year’s eve, with genres varying from enka to J-Pop, people traditionally visit the shrine or temple in their neighbourhood to listen to the Joya No Kane at midnight (giant bell ringing), pray, drink a cup of sake or buy a hamaya (sacred arrow bringing good fortune).

Miko blessing some hamayaTo pray in a Shinto shrine on New Year:

  • Throw a coin in the designated box
  • Ring the bell
  • Bow 2 times
  • Clap your hands two times
  • Pray, and then bow one last time when you are done before leaving (some people will also clap one time)

Crowd at the Hie Jinja on Japanese New YearThough in the past few years i visited the shrine at midnight on new year’s eve, i decided this year to go to the Hie Jinja on Sotobori Dori in the morning of the 1st of January, to avoid queuing in the coldness of the night (so i basically queued in the coldness of the day, since you simply can’t avoid queuing on such crowded days).

Queuing for the New Year's prayerBack home, most Japanese will eat osechi ryori, that could be best described as a sort of luxurious bento. Traditionally, the osechi ryori will consist in a selection (or all) of the following dishes:

  • Kuro-mame (black soybeans)
  • Kazunoko (herring roes)
  • Datemaki (sweet rolled omelette)
  • Zoni (miso soup of mochi rice cake)
  • Ebi (prawn)
  • and many more depending on the regions/family traditions/personal tastes…

Osechi ryori