Experience Japan’s Most Important Cultural Tradition “Hatsumode” (First Shrine Visit of the New Year)! Kawasaki Daishi New Year’s Pilgrimage.

Written by Ogasawara Takeshi
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Happy New Year, everyone! I am Takeshi Ogasawara, the systems manager of this site.
For 2017’s hatsumode (the first shrine visit of the new year), I visited Kawasaki Daishi, another name for the temple Heiken-ji. Kawasaki Daishi is the most popular place for hatsumode visits in Kanagawa Prefecture, an area near Tokyo. With an average of around 3 million hatsumode visitors each year, Kawasaki Daishi is in the top 10 most popular temples of not just the Kanto region, but of the entirety of Japan!

The temple has been known for many years for its powers of warding off evil, and it has been called “Daishi of the Common People.” As for me, I used to live in Kawasaki City for around 5 years, and since I lived there I have visited Kawasaki Daishi every year for 10 years. Using my experiences as an example, with this article I would like to explain the events of “hatsumode,” Japan’s single most important cultural tradition of the year, in as much detail as possible. I would be thrilled if you could use this as a reference if you have the chance to experience hatsumode in the coming years!

Preparing for Hatsumode

Here I will introduce some things you should do in advance of hatsumode to prepare.

1. Make Sure You Dress Warmly

It will be cold, so be sure to dress warmly! It may sound nice to wear a kimono, but there actually aren’t many Japanese people who go through the effort to wear kimono to hatsumode. It is a shrine visit, after all, so flashy and revealing clothes should be avoided too.
Also, you walk a lot at hatsumode, so be sure to wear comfortable shoes.

2. Be Sure to Bring Change and 1,000 Yen Bills

You should be sure to bring change to make monetary offerings, particularly 5-yen coins (reasoning to follow). Also, there is a good chance you will want to buy small souvenirs like amulets and good luck charms during your visit, and the shrine or temple will likely be running short on 1,000 yen bills, so by paying with one it could help them out. The gods will almost certainly smile upon you for such a considerate thought!

3. Think About What You Will Wish For

Hatsumode is a crowded event packed with people, so it is a good idea to think about what you want to wish for before your turn is about to come up. People waiting behind you get impatient if you go up to pray and have to stop to think about it (in my experience)....

4. Stay Hungry

I love to eat, so it’s no exaggeration to say I consider the most fun part of hatsumode to eat at the various food stalls after worshiping!
It’s also rude to the gods if you go to hatsumode on a full stomach, and there are plenty of delicious stalls to visit afterwards, so be sure to go on an empty stomach!

5. Be in a Good Mood

It will be crowded on the day of the event, so if you go into it looking to have fun, you are much less likely to get irritated waiting in line.
Also, amidst other cultural elements of Japan like tea ceremony, sumo, and kabuki, I believe hatsumode is the easiest and most lighthearted event to experience Japanese culture through, so I’m sure you will enjoy yourself!

Transportation to Kawasaki Daishi

There are two main stations in Kawasaki: JR Kawasaki Station and Keikyu Kawasaki Station. As far as travel for visiting foreigners goes, most people probably travel to JR Kawasaki Station from Tokyo or Shinjuku, then go to Keikyu Kawasaki Station from there. You can walk from JR Kawasaki Station to Keikyu Kawasaki Station in around 5 minutes. From Keikyu Kawasaki Station, take the Daishi Line, and get off in 3 stops at Kawasaki Daishi Station. The ride takes about 5 minutes, and tickets cost 130 yen each way.

Directions to Kawasaki Daishi

I was rather busy at the start of this new year, so I visited a bit late, on January 6th. Most Japanese companies resume operations on the 4th or 5th of the new year, so I was worried that few people would be going when I visited. However, while there certainly were fewer visitors than there are from the 1st through 3rd, there were still plenty of visitors and it was very enjoyable.

1. Omotesando Kawasaki Daishi Evil-Warding Gate

If you walk for around 1 minute after leaving Kawasaki Daishi Station from the ticketing area and taking a left, you will reach the “Omotesando Kawasaki Daishi Evil-Warding Gate.” Then, it is about another 10 minutes of walking to reach it, but there are rows of stalls selling a variety of delicious foods. The tantalizing smell fills the air.

Kawasaki Daishi Evil-Warding Gate
[Kawasaki Daishi Evil-Warding Gate]

There was a shocking variety of stalls, including oden, yakitori, amazake, tonjiru, offal stew, buttered potatoes, and more! I arrived right around noon, so ignoring everything on an empty stomach was really difficult…. But eating before going to worship is rude to the gods, so I kept telling myself that I needed to be patient.
By the way, on January 1st through 3rd, some of the roads near Kawasaki Daishi are converted to pedestrian paths only due to high traffic.

2. Kawasaki Daishi Entrance to Daishi Shops

After about 10 minutes of walking from when you pass through the Omotesando Kawasaki Daishi Evil-Warding Gate, on your right you will see the entryway for “Kawasaki Daishi Entrance to Daishi Shops.” This area is a pedestrian paradise! It is crowded and bustling with activity, making it really fun. There are plenty of stores in this shopping district. There are many lucky items and traditional Japanese souvenirs on display, so even if you just go to look and not shop you definitely get the feeling of it being a Japanese New Year. Hatsumode sure is fun!

3. Where to Buy Kawasaki Daishi’s Famous Souvenir, “Kuzumochi”

The shop pictured here with the sign saying “店内売場 入→口” (“Store Sales Area Entry→Exit”) is a famous long-standing Japanese sweets store called Sumiyoshi. Here you can try the famous souvenir of Kawasaki Daishi, “kuzumochi.” You can either buy it to eat after you finish worshipping, or to bring home with you.

Kuzumochi
[Kuzumochi]

Kawasaki Daishi Hatsumode Procedure and Things to Be Aware Of

Nearby is the Kawasaki Daishi Great Mountain Gate, on which “Kongozan” is written in gold characters (traditionally temples are granted honorific mountain names, and “Kongozan” is that of Kawasaki Daishi). When entering this gate, the expansive area of the road that leads to the temple comes into view. Alright, time to start the worship!

Walk Avoiding the Center of the Path (“Seichuu”)

If you continue on straight ahead, you will soon reach the main temple building. However, the middle of the path leading there is called “seichuu,” and it is regarded as the path that the gods take. It is ideal to avoid the center of the path as much as possible, so try to walk on either side. It doesn’t matter whether you choose to go on the left or right, but if you decide to walk on the left, walk by stepping with your left foot first. If you decide to walk on the right, do the same with your right foot.

First Up is “Hand Washing”

At Kawasaki Daishi, the washbasin is on the right side, so it is efficient to enter from the right.
First off, you need to purify your hands and mouth at the washbasin. Since olden times in Japan, water has been believed to cleanse impurities. People who wish to visit the gods must first cleanse their bodily impurities using the washbasin’s water. Here is how to properly do this.

Procedure for Washing

  1. Bow.
  2. Scoop water in the ladle, and first wash your left hand.
  3. Switch hands holding the ladle and wash your right hand.
  4. Once again take the ladle in your right hand, pour water into your left palm, and rinse your mouth with that water. Rinse your left hand again after you are done.
  5. Rinse the ladle with remaining water and then tip it out.
  6. Wipe off your mouth and hands with a handkerchief or other cloth.
  7. Bow again.

※These actions must be performed using a single ladle of water, not by scooping water over and over!

The following is a video demonstrating the procedure for washing.

Then “Osame”

In most shrines and temples, areas called “Nousatsu Den” or “Nousatsu-jou” are usually located near the washbasin.
This is where “osame” takes place, an act where you return items like charms that you received past times you came to worship. The effective period of charms is typically one year. Here you can give thanks for past protections and properly dispose of the charms.

Next is “Kenkou”

Now it’s finally time to go worship, but on the way to the main temple hall there is a large “kenkou,” or incense offering area. It is a place to cleanse yourself with the smoke of incense.

You rub incense smoke into sick or hurt parts of your body to pray for faster recovery. It is said that putting a child’s head into the smoke and rubbing it in makes them grow up smarter.

You do not have to buy incense, but it may be a fun thing to indulge in if it is your first time. A bundle costs 100 yen, and after purchasing you can light the incense using the flames and then put it in the censer. The censer will be very hot, so please be careful to not burn yourself.

Next are Prayers

After going up the stone steps and inside the main temple hall, there is a large offerings box ahead. Keep in mind that it is impolite to approach via the middle of the path. If even the middle area is occupied, don’t wait for the people in front of you to finish their prayers; you can go ahead and do that year’s worship from the back. The proper steps are outlined below.

※Please be aware that etiquette for shrines and temples differs slightly.

走進大堂,高大的佛像前設有一個又寬又長的“賽銭箱”。往正中央擠過去會很失禮,如果中央沒有空位就在側近參拜即可。在寺院和在神社參拜時的參拜方法有很大的不同,下面是各自具體的參拜方法。

How to Pray at a Temple

1. Stand before the altar
Stand before the god’s altar, and begin with a bow. (Does not have to be directly in front of the altar.)
2. Make your monetary offering
Put your offering in the designated box.
3. Ring the bell
Ring the bell if there is one. (There is not one at Kawasaki Daishi. Do not do anything if there is not one.)
4. Worship

Typical worship procedure is “bow, clasp hands in prayer, bow.”

  1. Clasp your hands in front of your chest.
  2. Pray with your hands still clasped together.
  3. Finally, bow again.

How to Pray at a Shrine

1. Stand before the altar
Stand before the god’s altar, and begin with a bow. (Does not have to be directly in front of the altar.)
2. Make your monetary offering
Put your offering in the designated box.
3. Ring the bell
Ring the bell if there is one.
4. Worship

Typical worship procedure is “bow twice, clap twice, bow once,” but rarely specific shrines have special worshipping practices.

  1. For the bowing twice, bow deeply two times. (This is to show respect to the gods.)
  2. For the clapping twice, bring your hands together and clap two times. At this time, lower your right hand slightly downward. (This is to summon the gods.)
  3. Next, pray with your hands firmly pressed together.
  4. Finally, for the bowing once, bow deeply one time. (This is to send the gods back.)

How to Pray at a Shrine

Trivia About Hatsumode

Hatsumode Information, Part 1 – Worship After Removing Your Coat and Hat

Keeping your coat or hat on while worshipping is rude to the gods, so remove them beforehand to be polite. However, if the area is densely crowded, it is okay to leave your coat on. Always be sure to remove your hat!

Hatsumode Information, Part 2 – Giving Monetary Offerings

Foreign visitors are likely wondering how much they should offer when they visit. The answer to that is, “It is about how you feel, the amount does not matter.” Originally, monetary offerings did not carry the meaning of “God, I’m giving you money, so please grant my wish,” but rather “God, please listen to my wish, thank you.” So, it is an act meant to express your gratitude, and as such the amount of money does not matter.

However, there are numbers you can reference for how much you actually should offer. These amounts are based off of monetary amounts that Japanese people consider to be auspicious or lucky. I am sure that some readers will want to avoid giving amounts that the Japanese people consider unlucky as well, so these will be summarized below.

※The Japanese pronunciation of the amounts is involved in determining if they are “lucky” or “unlucky.”

5-yen coin
[5-yen coin]

Auspicious Amounts for Monetary Offerings

  • 5 yen (1 5-yen coin) – To make connections
  • 15 yen (3 5-yen coins) – To make plenty of connections
  • 21 yen – 21 is a number that cannot be cleanly divided in two, so it is good for offerings when wishing for continuing love or marital happiness.
  • 105 yen (21 5-yen coins) – To make plenty of connections

Unlucky Amounts for Monetary Offerings

  • 10 yen (1 10-yen coin) – Distant Relatives (relationships will worsen)
  • 65 yen (13 5-yen coins) – No good connections
  • 75 yen (15 5-yen coins) – No connections at all
  • 85 yen (17 5-yen coins) – No connections after all
  • 500 yen – No more effectiveness

As most of these amounts use 5-yen coins, you should gather some in advance. Additionally, it is not good to borrow 5-yen coins from others, so be sure to get them for yourself!

In addition, here is how to make the offering. It’s a bit unavoidable to have difficulty since the box is far away, but it is an offering, so the proper way to put it in is to gently toss it from an open palm. Do not grasp the coins and throw them with any strength from above.

Hatsumode Information, Part 3 – How to Ring the Bell and Worship

In Japan, bells are believed to ward off evil spirits, so by ringing one you are able to cleanse impurities. A common misunderstanding is people believing that “if you ring the bell, it can call gods.” Also, as for how to ring the bell, you just ring it once quietly.

Bells
Bells

Hatsumode Information, Part 4 – How to Pray Differs Between Shrines and Temples

As I mentioned above, the way to pray at temples and shrines is slightly different. At temples, you typically use the “bow once, clasp hands in prayer, bow once” method, while at shrines you usually use the “bow twice, clap twice, bow once” method. Particularly the shrines’ method is said to be a unique act to Japan, so check out these following videos!

Hatsumode Information, Part 5 – It is Very Important to Show Gratitude Before Leaving

Even many Japanese people forget this, but you are supposed to bow to the temple or shrine as you leave. When visiting most temples and shrines, you end up leaving the same way you came in. So, when you pass back through the torii or temple gate, you turn around, bow once, and then go on your way.

Fortunes and Charms

After finishing worshipping, be sure to enjoy picking up fortunes and charms!

Hatsumode Fortunes (Omikuji)

Each Person Can Only Take One Fortune

Fortune slips, called omikuji, tell your fortune for the upcoming year. Most shrines and temples have fortunes for sale for around 100 yen. Each person is limited to one fortune! Even if you aren’t happy with your result, you can’t redraw another one.

What Are the Order of Fortunes and Chances of Each?

The order of possible fortune outcomes, from best to worst, goes “dai-kichi (great blessing), chuu-kichi (middle blessing), sho-kichi (small blessing), kichi (blessing), han-kichi (half-blessing), sue-kichi (future blessing), sue-sho-kichi (future small blessing), kyo (curse), sho-kyo (small curse), han-kyo (half-curse), sue-kyo (future curse), dai-kyo (great curse).” People tend to believe that “the chance that you get dai-kichi is around 15%, while the chance for kyo is around 30%.” It may seem like that is a high chance to get kyo, but this should bring you some comfort: temples and shrines often say that “you should not judge your fortune solely on whether you draw luck or a curse; the actual contents of the fortune other than luck/curse are very important, to be sure to take them to heart.”

Can You Change the “Curse” You Drew Into a “Blessing”?!

Furthermore, it’s okay even if you pulled “kyo”! You can tie your fortune to a tree, which bears the meaning of “creating a relationship with the gods.” Originally the point made was that “if you can tie it with just using your non-dominant hand, you can achieve difficult things,” changing your curse to a blessing! In addition, supposedly this always works, so if you happened to pull “kyo,” you just have to tie it to a tree, and you will “always” end up with a blessing instead!

Conclusion: Whether You Should Draw a Fortune or Not

If it is your first time drawing a fortune you might hesitate, but if you want to do it but are just afraid to, keep in mind what I wrote earlier about changing your luck. You can take home your fortune if you pull one of the “kichi” results, and even if you get a variation of “kyo,” just follow the above steps to change it to “kichi”!
※The tree to tie your fortunes to should be right around where you draw fortunes.

About Super-Popular Charms (Omamori)

Do Charms Have Expiration Dates?

Yes, charms do expire – after one year! Once a year has passed, be grateful for its blessings.
Most shrines and temples are the same in this regard.
Charms for success, like passing a test, and safe births expire after the specific event has passed.

There Are Many Varieties of Charms!

Even though “charms” are just one thing, they have a lot of variations. Many shrines and temples have unique charms, but the following are the most common general types.

  • For Health: There are charms “prayers for health” and “recovery from illness,” among others.
  • For Love: There are charms for “finding love,” “marriage,” and “marital happiness,” among others.
  • For Safety: There are charms for “family well-being,” “traffic safety,” and “safe births,” among others.
  • For Academics: There are charms for “academic success” and “passing exams,” among others.
  • For Business: There are charms for “business prosperity” and “economic fortune,” among others.
  • For Evil-Warding: There are charms for “warding evil” and “better fortune,” among others. These require a bit of explanation. It is a superstition, but it is said that “people reach what are called ‘unlucky ages’ as they grow older.” These unlucky ages are, to put it simply, ages where one’s luck is just not very good. Everyone is subject to these unlucky ages, but having one of these “evil-warding” charms can protect you from this bad luck.

Is It Okay to Buy Many Types of Charms, Even from Multiple Shrines and Temples?

I’m sure that you all are wondering whether it is okay to buy multiple charms of different types at once, after reading all of the varieties above. The answer is, it is completely okay! As people live their lives, they want to take care of their health, have love ventures go well, and do well at work. So, it is okay to buy multiple charms! You also might wonder if you can purchase the same type of charm that you’ve bought at one shrine or temple again at another. This also is okay! There “are no gods with such shortsightedness that they would fight amongst themselves,” after all!

How to Use Charms

Typically, you should keep charms with you. Good places to store them include your wallet or bag. However, charms are not accessories, so be aware that you shouldn’t leave them in plain view for others to see.

Incidentally, Kawasaki Daishi has been known for a long time as a place that wards off evil, so I recommend buying charms for “warding evil” and “better fortune” there! One charm is 300 yen, and special “charm bags” for holding them also cost 300 yen. If you already have a charm bag, you don’t need to buy another, but if this is your first, it would be a good idea to buy them together. (Combined cost of 600 yen)

※If you purchase both the charm and the bag, you will be given the charm already put inside of the bag.

After finishing the visit and buying fortunes and charms, you really get filled with a feeling of fulfillment!

There are a lot of rules of etiquette and propriety, but if you are a foreigner visiting Japan, wouldn’t this make for a great travel experience? (*^^*)
Once you’ve gotten that feeling of fulfillment for your heart, it’s time to fulfill your hungry stomach! This is when you get to enjoy eating at all the different food stalls that are waiting for you!

Daruma
[Daruma]

Is This the True Charm of Hatsumode? Eating at Bustling Food Stalls!!

As you descend the stone steps outside of Kawasaki Daishi’s main temple hall, you can see the vivid “Octagonal Five-Storied Pagoda” silhouetted against the sky. It makes for an incredible view. Then, beneath the pagoda, there are lots of stalls all lined up! This is where it gets even more fun! Alright, time to fill your empty stomach!

[Octagonal Five-Storied Pagoda]
[Octagonal Five-Storied Pagoda]

So Much Delicious Food ♪

I started off with chicken skewers (200 yen each) and hotdogs (200 yen each)! Be sure to add togarashi (chili pepper) if you love spicy food!

chicken skewers (200 yen each) and hotdogs (200 yen each)
chicken skewers (200 yen each) and hotdogs (200 yen each)

I made it too spicy, so I had to have some amazake (200 yen per cup). (*´ω`*)

amazake
[amazake (200 yen )]

You also have to get some offal stew (400 yen)! Especially the radish in it; it soaks up all the flavor and is incredibly delicious!

Offal stew (400 yen)
[Offal stew (400 yen)]

Grilled squid (600 yen) is also really fragrant and delicious! On top of all that, I also tried some Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki (600 yen) and turban shell skewers (300 yen).
Buttered potatoes (500 yen) are also an indispensable part of stall food! They’re available with salt, mayonnaise, and soy sauce miso flavors, but I recommend the salt ones the most! Put plenty of margarine on top of the hot potato you receive! (Self-serve)

So Much Delicious Food ♪
So Much Delicious Food ♪

After that, I bought a bottle of tea, and between me and my friend we ended up spending 3000 yen overall! Before I knew it I was stuffed! I visited delicious stall after delicious stall, all while passing by lots of people! Eating and walking around is the best after all!

There Are Too Many Choices! What Should I Eat?

To foreigners visiting Japan, anything you can get at these stalls is sure to be new and strange, but there are things that Japanese people can only get at stalls like this too! If you’re not sure what to try, here is a list of a few stalls that even Japanese people are sure to stop at!

Food

  • Offal stew
  • Salt-grilled sweetfish
  • Grilled squid
  • Buttered potatoes

Drinks

  • Amazake (for adults)
  • Ramune (for children)

You can get things like takoyaki and yakisoba any time, so they aren’t too rare to Japanese people. On the other hand, foods like grilled squid are rarely served in restaurants, so Japanese people are more likely to order it when available.

Buttered potatoes
[Buttered potatoes]
Offal stew
[Offal stew]
Grilled squid
[Grilled squid]

To wrap up my trip, I bought some small lucky accessories and souvenirs, then I went home. That ends my experience with hatsumode, the most important event of the year in Japan. It is a tradition that has been around for about 400 years, since the Edo Period. It seems that people think Japanese people strongly value tradition. However, I think that they do so not just to protect the tradition, but because following them is fun! After all, hatsumode is really enjoyable! Why not try traveling to Japan next year for New Years and experience hatsumode for yourself? (*^^*)

Kawasaki Daishi (Heiken-ji)

Address
4-48 Daishi cho, Kawasaki-ku, Kawasaki City, Kanagawa
Te
044-266-3420
URL(English)
http://www.kawasakidaishi.com/english/