Sunday, January 1, 2012

Ushering The New Year The Japanese Way

"Wow, you guys really celebrate the New Year 
throughout the whole year huh? I bet it must be 
very busy for you guys lol!" 

Fujinuki Yusuke 
a Japanese friend reacting after knowing
how often we have festivals in Malaysia


First of all, a Happy New Year 2012 to everyone, as we step into another brand new year!

Talking about New Year's Eve, the common things that cross over our mind are usually huge countdown parties and spectacular fireworks lighting up the night sky at the stroke of midnight. Also not forgetting is of course concerts which are filled with sounds of music, dancing, blaring horns, plus the congested traffic on most of the hot spots for the countdown celebrations. 

Come to Japan and that atmosphere will take a one-hundred-and-eighty-degree turn. Here in Japan, instead of joining the thousands of people for countdown celebrations, which by the way is something almost non-existent in Japan, the Japanese go for prayers at shrines and temples. This custom is known as hatsumōde (初詣), the first shrine visit of the New Year. Although I have spent more than four years in Japan, I never had the chance to feel the atmosphere of hatsumōde. That is why I thought I wouldn't wanna miss it this year.


Long queue was already forming when we arrived at the shrine, about fifteen minutes to midnight.


Food stalls set up for visitors who wish to fill their stomach with the last and first meal of the year haha! 


The shrine was beautifully lighten up with paper lanterns on the way up to the main shrine hall.


The chilly winter night didn't at all stop the Japanese from making a visit to the shrine at midnight.


Curious stares from the Japanese didn't stop us from camwhoring in the middle of the crowd haha! They must be thinking what the hell 
these two jakuns doing. People busy wanna pray, we go there to camwhore lol! 

Inage Sengen Shrine (稲毛浅間神社) is one of the well-known shrines near the place I stay right now, and it was the destination Kai Cung and I headed to welcome the New Year. On our way there, the sound of the bells being rang could be heard from afar. The Buddhist temples ring their bells a total of 108 times to symbolize the 108 human sins in Buddhist belief, and to get rid of the 108 worldly desires regarding sense and feeling in every Japanese citizen.

It was already almost midnight when we arrived there, and we spotted long line of visitors, patiently waiting their turns to offer their prayers at the main shrine hall. As we were queuing up, the clock was just seconds away from striking midnight. And once it struck twelve, some of them bowed and wished each other "Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu", which translates "Happy New Year". It felt quite funny, but cute at the same time to see the Japanese doing that haha!


There were no pushing and shoving although there were thousands of people at the shrine. Everybody waited patiently for their turns to offer their New Year prayers.


A closer look at the main shrine hall.

The number of visitors who go for prayers during the first few days of the New Year can be as many as a few millions people at major shrines throughout Japan, such as Meiji Jingu and Narita-san Shrine. Usually, the Japanese will visit the shrines with their families, as they pray for the safety of their family and possessions, as well as making wishes for the New Year.

The worship act is quite brief which takes less than ten seconds; unless you are damn kiasu and you wanna make tons of wishes which will take you forever haha!


It is also a common custom to get a new omamori (御守) or amulets during hatsumōde. Various omamori are for sale, which help to usher in 
and maintain happiness and prosperity in the New Year.


Grabbed the first omikuji (おみくじ) of the year and I got chū-kichi (中吉), or middle blessing. Not bad-lar right haha! Omikuji are random fortunes 
written on strips of papers.


When the prediction is bad, it is a custom to fold up the strip of paper and attach it to a pine tree or a wall of metal wires alongside other bad fortunes 
in the temple or shrine grounds in the hope that its prediction will not come true.


Amazake (甘酒), literally sweet sake. It is a traditional sweet, low-alcoholic Japanese drink made from fermented rice and is served hot with a bit of grated ginger, 
to keep the shrine goers warm. There are also good luck coffee (開運コーヒー) and good luck cocoa (開運ココア) drinks on sale. Maybe we can have 
good luck teh tarik (開運引張お茶) next time during Hari Raya haha!

On the next day, the first thing I look forward is to receiving nengajō (年賀状), or New Year's Day postcards. It is one of the Japanese New Year's customs to express gratitude or to maintain friendships, especially to faraway friends and relatives whom they did not meet often on the special occasion. However, one thing to take note is that it is customary not to send these postcards when one has had a death in the family during the year. In this case, a family member sends a simple postcard called mochyuu hagaki (喪中葉書) or mourning postcards to inform friends and relatives they should not send New Year's cards, out of respect for the deceased.

At about ten in the morning, the postman dropped a stack of postcards through my door. I flipped though the stack and all of them were written with Kai Cung's name, except the last one.


The nengajō I got on New Year's Day, from Shei Pien in Kanazawa. And she tried to lure me with the snow at her place haha wtf!

People who cannot make it to the shrines and temples at midnight usually make their visit there the next morning. Although it is commonly thought that people go for hatsumōde on the first of January, it can be done a few days later, usually until the third of January.

I dropped by at the same shrine in the morning to photograph the shrine on New Year's goings-on of the visitor and during this time, I was quite struck by how prominent food and drink is a part of this cultural and religious celebration.


The main torii gate at the entrance to Inage Sengen Shrine.


Some local politicians stand there to greet the visitors while holding to their banners. Imagine Samy Vellu doing this at Batu Caves haha!


They will bring the old omamori to be returned to the shrine so that they can be burned This is where the old omamori from the previous year are burned. 
I love this place a lot 'coz it keeps me warm lol!


Food stands line the path in and out of the shrine and visitors snack on various treats after praying.


A red board written with New Year greeting, kinga-shinnen (謹賀新年).


The visitors were divided into two different lines, the one on the left are those who wish to wash their hands and drink the water at the chōzuya (手水舎), which is an 
essential purification ritual done by Japanese upon entering the precinct of a shrine, while those who wanna skip that can proceed straight to the main hall.


The guys in blue uniform using hailers to direct visitors to move along and keep order.


The visitors coming for hatsumōde just keep coming as the day approach the noon. 


It was almost a stand-still in front of the main shrine hall, as visitors stop to make their prayers. 


A closer look at the main shrine hall of Inage Sengen Shrine. 


Visitors will usually offer coins into the saisen-bako (賽銭箱), as offering to the kami (神), before praying in front of the main hall.


Had a shot by the mascot of the shrine and the main hall as the background.


New designs of dragons on the ema (絵馬), wooden plaques where people write their prayers and wishes on them.


In the event of the fortune being good, the bearer has the option of tying the omikuji for the fortune to have a greater effect or can keep it for luck.


Different types of omamori, including the popular kaiun-hamaya (開運破魔矢), which is believe to bring better fortune. The right ones looks like broom, 
which I guess to sweep away bad luck lol!


The design of the kaiun-hamaya, literally means "better fortune magical arrow" changes every year, according to the zodiac animals.


Hello Kitty can be seen at almost every corner of this shrine, including on the omamori and also the paper lanterns decorated around the surroundings of the shrine.

Once everyone was done with hatsumōde, it was time to move to the next activity. One of the most typical features of the New Year in Japan is fukubukuro (福袋), or "happy bags". So, if you are sad or down next time, just go grab some fukubukuro haha wtf!

The term is formed from the word fuku (福), which means "fortune" or "good luck", and fukuro (袋) or literally "bag". As the name indicates, they are bags, usually paper, that contain several items inside. The items are usually much more valuable than the price of each fukubukuro. For example, a 10,000 yen fukubukuro may contain items that are worth 30,000 yen. So, fukubukuro are considered to be a "good deal."


For this reason, I went to Lalaport Tokyo Bay to see how fukubukuro shopping feels like.


As it is a public holiday, the mall was super crowded with shoppers.


One of the section for kids to have fun.

Fukubukuro are usually sealed firmly so that shoppers cannot see what is inside until you buy one. So, people might think it sounds kinda silly to pay for something without knowing what it is. But well, fukubukuro are not only considered a "good deal," but also something that people try their luck on. Nowadays however, there are some stores which also sells fukubukuro which people get to see what's inside them, although I feel that it somehow kills the excitement when you purchase a fukubukuro.

The items come in various range; from fashion and cosmetic items, electrical and household items, to food like doughnuts and ice-creams. Fukubukuro usually are snapped up quickly by eager customers, with some stores having long lines hours before the stores open on New Year's Day.


Almost each stores has their fukubukuro in front of their store, and the sale usually starts around nine in the morning.


A photo shop, which also prepared fukubukuro for shoppers.

If you find something good in the bag, it can be a good start to the new year. If you find something you don't like or you don't need? Well, it doesn't mean you gonna have a bad year ahead because you can always exchange the items you don't need with your friends, or just go to an Internet auction site and change those items into something more valuable to you "money."

It's undeniable this fukubukuro craze is a big thing among the girls, but there are also stores which sells fukubukuro which are for guys as well. I had never bought any fukubukuro before, so naturally I was too chicken to buy one for fearing that what's inside might not be something I like. However, there's always a first time to everything and I fell to the temptation to get one for myself haha! Not gonna tell you what I got though, 'coz it is kinda, errr... well, lets skip this shall we lol!

After several hours of non-stop walking around the mall, it was time to take a break and have some refuel.


Had my first lunch of the year at Otoya (大戸屋). This is one of my favourite, chicken and vegetable black vinegar sauce set meal (鶏と野菜の黒酢あん定食).

All in all, the New Year might be celebrated in a slightly different way in Japan, but I particularly love how the Japanese pays visit to shrines and temples on the first day of the year. It somehow makes us feel more of the significance of the day. But well, unlike in Malaysia where we have so many New Years throughout the year, January first is the one and only New Year they have in Japan. So, that is probably why it is considered to be the most important and biggest festival of the year.

Thanks for reading and I hope now you've learned some stuff about the New Year in Japan.


All About Ipoh said...

Yer... No fun lar... I think all ur reader also wanna know wats in the fukubukuro leh.... Tell lah... :)

Btw happy belated new year .... Hahaha..

Roara. said...

lots of lovely photos as usual!
LalaPort looks crazy...I want to go too but I think I will wait until the crowd dies down a little more.

calvin said...

@ all about ipoh:
hahaha, i think only you wanna know what i got from the fukubukuro xD

well, it's something for me to wear on ー(´∀`)ノ

happy very belated new year to you too!

calvin said...

@ roara.:
thanks laura. the mall was super packed, but it was part of the craziness and excitement for new year shopping xD

Baby^Girl said...

Lol !! so pity .. if i didnt send to you then u mai very sad lo ? lol ...
and hor .. itu old omamori to burnt is not omamori .. called shimenawa lo .. hahaha ...

calvin said...

@ baby^girl:
yealor, otherwise i will have to send a nengajo to myself lol! thanks for making me not sad haha!

i know that's called shimenawa. but just wanna test you only-mar haha! =P

DT said...

hahha.. ok i think i know what u got in the fukubukuro dy....
but ur emoticon a bit explicit though...kekeke but only one item inside the fukubukuro meh?

calvin said...

@ dt:
haha! are you sure you got the correct guess?

anyway, the fukubukuro has two kinds of items, and each has five pieces in it xD

DT said...

Should be correct kua... Since u oredi mentioned it explicitly with the "bird" emoticon..... Kekekek!!!

calvin said...

@ dt:
haha! does that emoticon look like a bird? xD