The otherwise peaceful Hachiman Jinja in Iruma, Saitama was on New Year’s Day morning thronged with locals who seemed have appeared out of nowhere in unison. A long, snaking queue stretching all the way down the steep steps had congregated by the time we arrived just past midnight.
And the purpose of this arduous late night outing – the Hatsumode – is to toll the giant bell at the central altar, making well wishes for the new year.
The next step is to purchase an Omamori (charm/amulet) and often also an Omikuji (a written oracle – see this older post) from the shrine shop. Ok, it’s also a great chance to ogle at the fashionably dressed Mikos (Shinto maidens).
A small bonfire was also blazing on at the back of the shrine, which is for burning the Omamori from the previous year. It’s also a great place to warm up from the chill of the winter night, about 2-3 degrees I think.
The Hatsumode goes on for the first 3 days of the New Year – the shrine was still packed with visitors when I passed by it on the way to the station in the morning.12