In early January, shrines and temples are full of pilgrims wishing for a prosperous new year. The first time one goes to a shrine in the new year is called hatsumode (初詣), though many people also visit Buddhist temples during this time. While there are long lines and large crowds, there are also many events to help pass the time while you wait to pray, buy new omamori (お守り) charms, turn in old charms, eat zensai and mochi, and drink amazake.
Since Sumiyoshi Taisha is a taisha, which means grand shrine, it is one of the most frequently visited shrines for hatsumode. That means you can expect a large crowd during the first few months of the year. Be prepared for congestion and long lines for many of the events.
One such event is Ebessan, which takes place between January 9th and 10th. There are actually several different Ebessan festivals, one in the heart of the city at Imamiya Ebisu Jinja and the oldest one by the port at Sumiyoshi Taisha. Due to its importance to businesspeople, part of the entertainment is seeing the massive bamboo displays purchased by companies trying to outdo each other. The more money spent, the larger and more impressive the display. Aside from the festival atmosphere and all the yatai food stalls, you can also see rice cake tossing, lucky stick burning, and a fish market. The festival itself is free, though you may want to bring money in order to buy food or trinkets. If you want a special Ebessan charm, be aware that they are not cheap.
If you can’t make it to Ebessan, there are many other smaller events at Sumiyoshi Taisha throughout the month of January. There is a white horse ritual at 11am on January 7th where an albino Dosanko horse is led around the shrine grounds to expel evil spirits and grant good luck to those who see it.
When: January 9-10, 10am-6pm
Location: Sumiyoshi Taisha
For more information (and other Sumiyoshi Taisha events):
At Shitennoji Temple on the last day of the Japanese Buddhist period of Shushoe (修正会), there is a ritual where nearly-naked high school boys struggle around in the cold and get splashed with water. While this sounds like something better off done in the summer, this ritual is a good luck ritual that proves the strength of the young men. There are two sets of young men clad in fundoshi loincloths. One team wears red and the other wears white. Both teams try to collect charms as water gets thrown onto them. The name of the festival comes from the young men chanting, “doya doya” as they struggle.
When: January 14, 2:30pm
Location: Shitennoji Temple
For more information:
Half and Full Marathons
For those more concerned with getting into shape for the new year, the Osaka Half Marathon coincides with the Osaka Women’s Marathon and takes place on Sunday, January 31st. While this year’s entry period is over, this is something to look forward to and work towards for next year. Registration takes place prior to December 1st every year.