Hatsumode is an event to pray for safety and peace for the year by visiting a shrine or temple (a Shinto shrine or Buddhist temple), or church for the first time since the start of a new year. It is also called hatsumairi (literally, first visit to the shrine).
Originally this was a custom called 'toshikomori' (also referred as toshigomori) in which the head of a family shut himself away in the shrine of the ujigami (a guardian god or spirit of a particular place in the Shinto religion) from the night of New Year's Eve until the morning of New Year's Day to offer prayers. Eventually toshikomori was divided into two customs; 'joyamode,' the visit in the night of New Year's Eve, and 'ganjitsumode,' that in the morning of the New Year's Day, which became the original form of today's hatsumode. Up until the end of the Edo period, it was common to visit the shrine or temple of ujigami or those in the direction of his or her eho (lucky direction) for the year (ehomairi), but after the Meiji period, it became customary to visit a well-known shrine or temple, regardless of the ujigami or eho. Even today, there are regions where people visit the ujigami on the New Year's Eve and go home once, then visit again on the New Year's Day. This custom is called ninen-mairi (a two-year visit to a shrine).
Hatsumode is considered to have become a common practice not so long ago but during the middle of the Meiji period. It is said that, up until the early Meiji period, some still practiced the custom of ehomairi; however, as each railway company in the Keihanshin region (namely, Osaka, Kyoto, and Kobe) started to advertise the shrines and temples of their choice along their own railway lines, by saying that 'the eho for the year is XX,' people became to visit those in other than the actual eho direction which leads the meaning of eho fade away and people visit well-known shrines and temples. In Kanto region, too, railway companies such as Keisei Electric Railway Co., Ltd., Keihin Electric Express Railway Co., Ltd., and Narita Railway (the current JR Narita Line) were established for the purpose of transporting visitors to shrines and temples. Fundamentally, hatsumode, in which no 'toshigomori' formalities are taken but only 'ganjitsumode' to shrines and temples is conducted, is a new custom which became widespread after the Meiji period; this is considered as being the product resulting from development of the railway network.
People visit a shrine or temple to pray that the year is good for them by purchasing such as omamori (a personal amulet), hamaya (a ritual arrow to drive away devils), windmill (a toy), and kumade (a rake-shaped amulet) at the shrine or temple offices, writing wishes and intentions on ema (a votive horse tablet), and drawing sacred lots. The last year's omamori and hamaya, and so on, are dedicated to the shrine or temple to be burned. Also, amazake (sweet mild sake) and omiki (sacred wine or sake) offered in the precincts are said to expel evil by drinking them.
Hatsumode in various areas are broadcast every year from December 31 until the early morning of January 1 in the programs such as a long-running program called 'Yukutoshi -Kurutoshi' (the old year and the new year) by Nippon Hoso Kyokai (Japan Broadcasting Corporation).
It is said that the target of hatsumode can be either a Shinto shrine or Buddhist temple. This is because before the separation of Buddhism and Shinto in the early Meiji period, the belief based on syncretization of Shinto and Buddhism with the integration of Shinto, Mahayana Buddhism, and Sorei shinko (belief in ancestral spirits), was common. In other words, the idea that, from a Shinto or Buddhism perspective, no distinction is made between whether you visit a shrine (a Shinto place of worship) or temple (a Buddhist place of worship) remains today, and this applies not only to hatsumode, but to other cases as well.
The age group for hatsumode varies; according to a questionnaire on the Internet conducted by Noriz in December 2006, the percentage of people who responded to go hatsumode every year was 59.1 percent for the age group of 70's or above, whereas 44.4 percent for the age group of 20's. As for the age group of 20's or below, 75 percent responded that they hardly ever go to hatsumode (from an article dated December 18, 2006, in the Sankei Shinbun Newspaper). This is probably the reason behind some magazines for the young to pick up the meals and shopping after hatsumode instead of focusing on the hatsumode itself, in spite of being feature article on hatsumode.
Period and number of hatsumode
There is no special definition for hatsumode. This originates from the fact that the Japanese basically have a very generous view on religion.
Generally, hatsumode refers to the visit made during the first three days of the New Year, but it is also said that there is no special problem if the visit is made sometime in January. Also, there is no definition for the number of hatsumode. According to one theory, the more Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples you visit, the greater the blessing you receive, but whether you visit shrines or temples doesn't really matter. For example, in some regions in the western Japan, there is a custom called 'sanja-mairi' in which people visit different shrines (about three shrines in most cases) during the first three days of the New Year. This results from the profound influence of the concept of syncretization of Shinto and Buddhism, as mentioned above.
Number of visitors to shrines and temples
According to the National Police Agency, the top ten shrines and temples which received most visitors in 2004 were as follows.
Meiji-jingu Shrine (Shibuya Ward, Tokyo Prefecture)
Shinsho-ji Temple on Mt. Narita (Narita City, Chiba Prefecture)
Heiken-ji Temple (Kawasaki City, Kanagawa Prefecture)
Fushimi-Inari Taisha Shrine (Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture)
Atsuta-jingu Shrine (Nagoya City, Aichi Prefecture)
Sumiyoshi Taisha Shrine (Osaka City, Osaka Prefecture)
Dazaifu Tenman-gu Shrine (Dazaifu City, Fukuoka Prefecture)
Hikawa-jinja Shrine (Saitama City, Saitama Prefecture)
Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu Shrine (Kamakura City, Kanagawa Prefecture)
Senso-ji Temple (Taito Ward, Tokyo Prefecture)
Similarly, the top 10 shrines and temples which received most visitors in 2006 were as follows, as reported by the National Police Agency.
Meiji-jingu Shrine: 3.05 million
Shinsho-ji Temple on Mt. Narita: 2.75 million
Heiken-ji Temple: 2.72 million
Fushimi-Inari Taisha Shrine: 2.69 million
Atsuta-jingu Shrine: 2.32 million
Sumiyoshi Taisha Shrine: 2.26 million
Senso-ji Temple: 2.20 million
Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu Shrine: 2.13 million
Dazaifu Tenman-gu Shrine: 1.93 million
Hikawa-jinja Shrine: 1.87 million
The total of hatsumode visitors for the year 2006 was 93.73 million.