New Year's Eve in Kyoto

New Year's in Japan is a special holiday with everyone travelling back home to be with their families. The typical holiday lasts from about New Year's Eve to the 3rd or later. (This year most people did not return to work until the 5th) Many shops are shut and trains are very busy, and I initially thought we would have trouble finding places to eat and things to do. Instead, we got very lucky and got to experience the traditional Japanese New Year.

Hatsumode is the year's first visit to a shrine, usually done over the New Year period. We got to experience Hatsumode at Fushima Inari shrine in Kyoto, one of the busiest and most popular shrines in the area. The shrine was originally erected when the area was more agriculturally based and is dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice. As foxes are considered to be his messengers, the shrine is decorated with many foxes and is famous for its many Torii gates (the orange pi shaped structures). 

 Possibly the longest line I have ever been in my life. It started from the station, snaked around multiple times then went into the shrine. It was also the most orderly and disciplined line I have ever been in. No pushing or shoving, just quiet, considerate, and patient movement. It was all very Japanese. This is just a fraction of the people that were in the shrine.

Possibly the longest line I have ever been in my life. It started from the station, snaked around multiple times then went into the shrine. It was also the most orderly and disciplined line I have ever been in. No pushing or shoving, just quiet, considerate, and patient movement. It was all very Japanese. This is just a fraction of the people that were in the shrine.

 When we got into the shrine, we lined up again (basically we followed the people) to get to the main shrine. When we got to the front, we threw 5 cent coins into this opening, rang the bells for luck, and bowed a few times. You're also meant to make a wish, but I also uttered a prayer of thanks for the wonderful experience and the trip I had. (Observation is how we figured out what to do)

When we got into the shrine, we lined up again (basically we followed the people) to get to the main shrine. When we got to the front, we threw 5 cent coins into this opening, rang the bells for luck, and bowed a few times. You're also meant to make a wish, but I also uttered a prayer of thanks for the wonderful experience and the trip I had. (Observation is how we figured out what to do)

 Here are some of the Torii in the shrine. There are many more, and we walked through a number of gates. They must be beautiful in the daylight but at night time they are a bit like a maze.

Here are some of the Torii in the shrine. There are many more, and we walked through a number of gates. They must be beautiful in the daylight but at night time they are a bit like a maze.

 People are able to purchase these wooden blocks (fox shaped, and some with the rooster as in the Chinese zodiac it is the year of the rooster) to write wishes on the back and hang them on the walls. I got one for myself and hung it here.   There are also options to purchase many things, like little totems of protection that are meant to bring you luck, happiness, good health, etc. You can also get your fortune and tie it to a tree or a fence for it to come true (or not). It is written in Japanese, so we didn't get one. There were also stalls full of food and we made sure to grab a tiny snack on the way out. 

People are able to purchase these wooden blocks (fox shaped, and some with the rooster as in the Chinese zodiac it is the year of the rooster) to write wishes on the back and hang them on the walls. I got one for myself and hung it here. 

There are also options to purchase many things, like little totems of protection that are meant to bring you luck, happiness, good health, etc. You can also get your fortune and tie it to a tree or a fence for it to come true (or not). It is written in Japanese, so we didn't get one. There were also stalls full of food and we made sure to grab a tiny snack on the way out. 

We must have gotten home at around 3 in the morning. It was a lovely way to spend New Year's Eve and thanks to the efficiency of the Japanese rail system (yes, they really are that good) we got home quickly, safe and sound. While I've usually spent my NYE at a countdown waiting for fireworks, this was a great way to experience Japanese culture and appreciate the differences. I felt very grateful for this experience and would recommend it to anyone spending time in Japan over this period.