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).
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.