Many residing in Japan will be unable to travel overseas or back home for the 2022 New Year holiday season due to the ongoing pandemic. If that is the same for you, why not take this opportunity to try out the uniquely Japanese new year activity known as hatsumōde, or "first temple visit of the year" for a change?
We've compiled a list of five renowned shrines and temples that are easily accessible from Tokyo. There are specific steps and etiquette to follow for hatsumōde prayers, so there's a section about that included for your handy reference as well.
To prevent the spread of Covid-19, we would like to remind everyone to take every precaution possible when heading outdoors, and consider avoiding days when the shrines and temples will be crowded, such as on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day.
*Information is accurate as of December 27, 2021. Depending on the situation, visiting hours or activities may be changed, postponed, or suspended without prior notification. Always check the shrines and temples' official website for the latest updates on the current situation before heading out.
- Table of Contents
- Basic shrine worship etiquette for hatsumōde
- 1. Meiji Jingū: Most popular hatsumōde shrine in Japan and top destination for youths and tourists due to close proximity with Harajuku and Shibuya
- 2. Sensō-ji: A popular destination all-year-round, but even more so during hatsumōde season
- 3. Kanda Shrine (Kanda Myojin): Shrine of guardian gods beloved by people from all stations of life
- 4. Tokyo Daijingū: Popular among ladies looking for luck in love
- 5. Zojoji: Hatsumōde with a great view of Tokyo Tower
Basic shrine worship etiquette for hatsumōde
If you are visiting a Japanese shrine for the first time, you may be a little anxious about what to expect and what shrine etiquette to follow.
Fortunately, those interested in taking part can simply follow the rather straightforward rites below.
Nihai-nihakushu-ichihai (two bows, two claps, one bow) is the basic prayer ritual performed by worshippers while standing in front of a shrine altar. You've most probably already seen someone doing this before, whether at a temple or on TV!
How nihai-nihakushu-ichihai is done
1) Put in a monetary offering, bow deeply twice, then bring hands up to eye level and clap twice.
2) Close your eyes while keeping your palms pressed together in front of your chest, then pray.
3) Open your eyes after praying and bow deeply one more time before leaving the queue.
(*Note that some shrines may have a two-bow, four-clap, one-bow ritual.)
New Year's Eve and the first three days of the New Year are usually when the shrines and temples will be packed with the most people, so finishing the prayer ritual in a timely manner helps keep things going smoothly for other worshippers.
For those visiting Buddhist temples, the nihai-nihakushu-ichihai ritual is not compulsory and visitors may simply make their monetary offering, then clasp their hands and pray about their wishes silently if they so desire.
Another bit of advice about the offering box: There's been a recent trend of tossing the monetary offering into the box from afar, but it's certainly not a very stylish or considerate way of doing things. The correct procedure is to walk close to the box and place your offering gently.
1. Meiji Jingū: Most popular hatsumōde shrine in Japan and top destination for youths and tourists due to close proximity with Harajuku and Shibuya
Meiji Jingū is where Emperor Meiji (1852 – 1912) and Empress Shōken (1849 – 1914) have been enshrined. This distinguished Shinto shrine is a historical building that exudes a calm and solemn dignity that stands in stark contrast against the general vibe of the busy metropolis it resides in. This is also the place where, before Covid, more than 3 million pilgrims from around Japan visited for their hatsumōde every New Year!
Situated in the trendy Harajuku and Omotesando area, the shrine is only about a minute's walk from the nearest station, Harajuku Station on the JR Lines. If you're taking the Tokyo Metro, it's about a 10-minute walk from Omotesando Station.
It's also within walking distance from Shibuya Station on the JR Lines if you'll be coming from there. All said, the ideal location is the main reason why plenty of youths and foreign visitors drop by the shrine after taking part in the new year countdown in the downtown areas nearby.
Be sure to protect yourself against the cold if this is your plan, since it can take about 2 hours to reach the offering box after 12 a.m. on new year's day. Staggered reception hours will be made as a measure against Covid-19.
・Annual visitors: More than 3 million
・Hours: December 31, 6:40 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.; January 1, 6:00 a.m. - 6:30 p.m.; January 2nd and 3rd, 6:40 a.m. - 6:00 p.m.; January 4, 6:40 a.m. - 5:30 p.m.; from 6:40 a.m. to 4:20 p.m. after January 5th (*There is no overnight worship from New Year's Eve to New Year's Day.)
・Hatsumōde event: Saitansai Ceremony (7:00 a.m. January 1)
・Health & Safety Measures: Washbasin provided / Purification basin use is prohibited / Priests, priestesses, and staff are required to put on masks / Mask wearing is enforced on all visitors / All on-site are required to follow coughing etiquette / Food stalls will be unavailable / The office for amulets and other items has moved from the main shrine, to the worshiper parking lot and the area on the west approach / Up to 5 people can pray at once
2. Sensō-ji: A popular destination all-year-round, but even more so during hatsumōde season
Sensō-ji is a top tourist destination in Tokyo's Asakusa district and sees huge numbers of visitors even on normal days. This temple is a short 5-minute walk from Asakusa Station on the Tobu and Tokyo Metro Lines.
During the new year season, Sensō-ji will be packed to the brim with even more visitors than usual, all wanting to perform their hatsumōde prayers at this well-known temple to get a good start to their year. As such, expect to amble through a long, snaking queue that stretches all the way through the temple premises to Kaminarimon Gate at Nakamise Street before getting your turn.
Note that queue-cutting is neither allowed nor appreciated, so don't do that! Our recommendation is to avoid the new year period altogether and visit again at another date if possible to avoid the crowds.
Also, one of the things people look forward to the most during hatsumōde is drawing an omikuji paper fortune lot, although the lots at Sensō-ji are infamous for having a high rate of bad lots! Those who are still up to the challenge definitely feel free to give it a go anyway, of course.
・Annual visitors: About 2.8 million
・Hours: All night on December 31 – 5:00 p.m. on January 1; 6:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. after January 2 *Subject to change without notice depending on the Covid-19 situation
・Hatsumōde event: New Year's Eve Bell on December 31, the first prayer of the new year
・Health & Safety Measures: Main hall interior use is by reservation only / All staff are required to put on masks / Mask wearing is enforced on all visitors / All on-site are required to follow coughing etiquette
3. Kanda Shrine (Kanda Myojin): Shrine of guardian gods beloved by people from all stations of life
Kanda Shrine (Kanda Myojin) was constructed about 1,300 years ago and houses the guardian gods of over 108 town councils in Kanda, Nihonbashi, and even Akihabara, the mecca of Japanese subculture.
Built on land that is central to Japan's businesses, the shrine's hatsumōde visitors include people from major corporations, and most are naturally more focused on getting blessings for wealth and prosperity. It helps that it's a convenient 5-minute walk from the Hijiribashi Exit of Ochanomizu Station on the JR Lines, or a 7-minute walk from the Electric Town Exit of Akihabara Station on the JR Lines.
・Annual visitors: About 300,000
・Hours: 24 hours
・Hatsumōde event: Saitansai Ceremony *Morning of January 1
・Health & Safety Measures: Purification basin use is prohibited / Priests, priestesses, and staff are required to put on masks / Number of visitors in the main hall restricted / Mask wearing is enforced on all visitors / All on-site are required to follow coughing etiquette / Prayer boards, amulets and other items can be purchased online and delivered via mail
For details on health measures in place (in Japanese), see the official website: https://www.kandamyoujin.or.jp/event/detail/?id=129
4. Tokyo Daijingū: Popular among ladies looking for luck in love
Tokyo Daijingū was built in 1880 as a satellite shrine of Mie Prefecture's Ise Grand Shrine. Because Emperor Taishō (1879 – 1926) held his wedding ceremony here and was the first to be married in front of the imperial sanctuary gods when he was still crown prince, it became known as the originator of Shinto-style weddings for the public.
The shrine itself venerates Musubi, the god of marriage and people looking for luck in love and marriage naturally flock here to seek a blessing. The shrine is popular among young women, and this becomes even more apparent during hatsumōde season.
To get to the shrine, you'll have to walk for about 5 minutes from Iidabashi Station on the Tokyo Metro. The shrine's good location in the popular Kagurazaka area means tourists can drop by for a visit in between food and shopping sessions to maximize their time.
・Annual visitors: About 40,000
・Hours: 12 midnight – 9:00 p.m. on January 1; 6:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m. after January 2
・Hatsumōde event: Commemorative mini-Oriental Zodiac wooden plaque (first 1,000 visitors who received an amulet or talisman between 8:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m. from January 1 to January 3, 2021)
・Health & Safety Measures: All staff are required to put on masks / Mask wearing is enforced on all visitors and sanitizer will be provided / All on-site are required to follow coughing etiquette / Goshuin will be performed / Sake distribution and other events have been canceled
5. Zojoji: Hatsumōde with a great view of Tokyo Tower
Zojoji is most well-known for being the family temple of the Tokugawa family, who were rulers of the Edo Shogunate (1600 to 1868). It is a short 3-minute walk from Shibakoen Station on the Toei Lines and a 10-minute walk from Hamamatsucho Station on the JR Lines.
The first thing visitors are likely to notice upon stepping foot onto its premises is the massive Sangedatsumon Gate, the largest of its kind in eastern Japan. It has been designated as a National Important Cultural Property, a sterling testament to its cultural significance.
As you walk farther into its premises, it's hard not to notice the recognizable silhouette of Tokyo Tower looming just behind the main building. No, it's not deja vu! You've probably seen this very scene before in one of the many tourist pamphlets introducing the area.
As you've probably guessed by now, this is a popular hatsumōde spot among foreigners because visitors can sightsee at one of Japan's most distinctive Buddhist temple buildings along with Tokyo Tower, an iconic modern landmark of Tokyo city in full view at the same time.
・Annual visitors: About 50,000
・Hours: All night on December 31 – 5:30 p.m. on January 1; 6:00 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. after January 2
・Hatsumōde event: New Year's Eve Bell on December 31, first prayer of the new year (the monk starts the prayer after the bell tolls at midnight on new year's day)
・Health & Safety Measures: Visitors for the New Year's Eve Bell event restricted / Visitors to main building restricted / All staff are required to put on masks / Mask wearing is enforced on all visitors / All on site are required to follow coughing etiquette
These are our top five shrine and temple picks for hatsumōde in Tokyo, but there are, of course, a lot of other places in the city where you can celebrate the new year as well.
Follow the rules and etiquette mentioned above for each location, and you should do just fine! If your preferred hatsumōde spot is somewhere else, try to do some research beforehand on what the place considers appropriate and inappropriate behavior just to be sure!
When going out for your hatsumōde, don't forget to take every precaution available to avoid the spread of Covid-19. Do also consider visiting on days other than New Year's Eve or New Year's Day so that you can avoid the crowds.
*Depending on the situation, hours and events may be postponed or suspended, so always check for the latest information on official websites before heading out.
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.
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