Hatsumode is the custom of visiting a shrine to give the first prayer of the New Year, and this is a very important tradition to many Japanese people. Trains honor this by running longer, into the early morning, and you will see plenty of people out and about during hours when Tokyo is usually a little more quiet. You can go to any shrine for hatsumode, but the most popular gathering in Tokyo is at Meiji Jingu next to Yoyogi Park.
Hatsumode at Meiji Jingu Shrine
Start New Year’s Eve walking around the streets outside of the Meiji Shrine. You will find plenty of yatai, or street vendors, selling your favorite Japanese snacks. Once you’ve had your fill of goodies, head inside the shrine, taking your time entering through a long forest pathway that seems far away from the busy city.
Be prepared, however, to hit a wall of people, all packed together and waiting to make a meaningful prayer for the new year. You are not allowed to approach the shrine until midnight, when you hear a deep, rhythmic gong that signals the start of 2019. Finally, as your row moves up, give a prayer the shrine way (see below), and make your exit.
But the night isn’t over yet! You will be shuffled to an area with more yatai to warm you up. Indulge in ramen, udon and oden as you chat the night away with your loved ones.
Top Tips for a Happy Hatsumode
1. Get in line by 10 p.m. at the latest
You have to wait two or more hours, but if you are prepared, the time goes by quickly. I went with friends who I needed major catching up with, so the time flew. We also had disposable cups and an 800-milliliter box of sake (best decision ever).
2. Bundle up, it’s cold!
Heat packs, warm jackets, gloves, scarves, etc. Don’t set yourself up to be miserable because you will be outdoors for a long time.
3. Be happy and patient
Yes, it’s crowded, but everyone around you has good intentions. Wait your turn and don’t get upset if someone bumps you. Don’t be a killjoy.
4. Pray, the right way.
The correct way to pray at a shrine:
- Throw a coin into the offering box
- Bow twice
- Clap twice
- Make a prayer
- Bow when finished.
5. Throw a ¥5 coin into the offering box
In Japanese, ¥5 is “go-en,” which also means “good relations.” Offering ¥5 coins symbolizes your wishes to strengthen communication, understanding and the quality of relationships among people you know or will meet.
6. Purchase an amulet
2019 is the Year of the Pig, and you will certainly see many charms celebrating this. Even if you’re not a believer, you can make a purchase to remember your evening.
Enjoy your New Year’s Eve outing to Meiji Jingu. I found hatsumode to be a truly amazing, unique and joyful experience there. To all readers, I wish you the best in 2019!
- Meiji Shrine is located outside of Harajuku station (JR Yamanote line) or Meiji Jingumae station (Chiyoda and Fukutoshin lines).
- Meiji Shrine is a walkable distance from Harajuku and Yoyogi. If you’re up for the stroll, you can also reach Meiji from Shibuya and Omotesando.
Entrance is free.