Hatsumōde is the practice of making a first visit of the year to a Shinto shrine. This is a very important part of Japanese culture and I was privileged by our friend Yuko Hendricks to grant me the experience of this tradition.
Arriving at Futenma Shrine in Ginowan, we passed under a torii , a tall traditional arched gateway to a Shinto shrine, a practice understood as the cleansing of one’s soul. There was a long queue of people standing in line in the cold, admirably no pushing and no shouting – a humbling reflection of how disciplined and respectful Japanese people are. As we entered the shrine grounds, there is a little station to our left where we can stop at to drop off good luck charms (omamori) and twisted rope (shimenawa) for disposal.
Climbing a short flight of stairs will lead you to the haiden, or hall of worship, where people do their prayer. At the front center of the haiden lies a large rectangular wooden offertory box called osaisenbako where you toss some coins, preferably a 50 yen coin with a hole in the center, and then make a bow and wish. However, only visitors with appointment to see the priest or priestess are allowed into the main building itself.
Just a short distance from the worship hall were racks of ema. Ema is a wooden plaque where you can write a wish or a prayer and then hang it on the rack. You can buy this at the shrine and have one your own. Omamori amulets are also popular for protection.
There were also people who bought omikuji, a written fortune on a white strip of paper, and folded it lengthwise and tied it onto the branches of a tree in the shrine courtyard.
Then we headed to the temizuya, where people rinse their mouth and hands with water in ritual purification. I sheepishly scooped the cold water with a wooden dipper and poured it into my hand, then drank it. Then another scoop to wash my hands.
And after taking a last look at how beautiful the entire place was, we decided that my first hatsumode visit was done and made our way out of the shrine. Yuko laughed at how amazed I was with this entire festivity. My first hatsumode is unforgettable, thanks to Yuko and to the hospitality of the Japanese people.
Kotoshi mo yoroshiku o-negai-shimasu!
Check on Google Street View below for an additional information and perspective on Futenma Shrine: