In the dawn light, I can’t parse
My dreams from reality.
In the Land of the Rising Sun, to witness the sun rise in a sacred place is to be blessed with good fortune. On the New Year, this pious act of observance is called “hatsumode.” Trains run throughout the night of December 31st, allowing travelers to arrive almost anywhere in time to catch the dawn’s golden rays. Fortune is increased when viewing the sun through a sacred gate, and more so if that gate is housed at a shrine whose deity represents the zodiac animal of the New Year. On this day, and for the next two days following, those who fervently hope for good fortune will brave the biting cold to present their heartfelt wishes to the gods.
A Pilgrimage to Ise
Shrines and temples are found in great abundance in Japan, and while there are many that would make for a fine hatsumode, perhaps few are as revered as the religious home of the Sun Goddess, Ameterasu Omikami. It is said that 2,000 years ago the Emperor Suinin instructed his daughter to procure a new location to hold ceremonies for the goddess. Searching over 20 years for a suitable place, she reached the southern rim of a large bay overlooking the Pacific Ocean. It was in the coastal city of Ise, near the mountains and sea, that the princess heard the voice of Amaterasu call down, “it is here I wish to dwell.”
This year I decided to do some searching as well, and revisited that familiar shrine I adored as a university student living in the neighboring prefecture, Mie. I still recall the quietude that encompasses the cypress forest there. How I marvelled at the trees’ astonishing girth, the braided ropes that adorn them like bracelets, placed as embellishments by the monks to honor those evergreen giants. Like many pilgrims at Ise, I came to pray and welcome the first rays of sunlight. Ringing the bell to alert the goddess of my presence and to show seriousness of spirit, I tossed my coins in the offering box.
As Within, So Without
Ise Shrine is divided into two main sections: Naiku, meaning Inner Shrine, and Geku, Outer Shrine. Known as ‘the spiritual home of the Japanese people,’ over 7 million pilgrims make the trek each year. A bus departs from the station to both the inner and outer gates. For Naiku, visitors enter through the Uji-bashi gates, cross a 100 meter bridge, and thereby transition from the human realm to the sacred. Every 20 years these gates are rebuilt to look just as they have looked for ages. Timber is taken from the forest and crafted in the ancient method of jointing wood without nails. The architecture at Ise reflects the simplicity found in nature.
‘Power stones’ in the inner shrine are believed to radiate warmth.
Fortune Favors the Specific
Visitors often purchase protective charms containing a prayer card. The charms are sorted into various categories depending on the need being fulfilled. Health, wealth, and happiness are the most common charms, while others address the desire to attain good test scores, avoid car accidents, and have a complications-free pregnancy and birth. You can purchase as many as you like, and for your friends and family too. This is all part of the process of hatsumode, which literally means ‘first visit to the shrine.’ Lastly, it is said that once hatsumode is complete, the pilgrim must return straight home to retain the blessings of the trip.
Would you visit a shrine to make a New Year’s wish? Of course it’s not all prayers and donations. You can be sure there is a fair amount of shopping available as well. The Outer Shrine is a long lane of shops, restaurants, and hotels dedicated to Toyouke Omikami: the God of agriculture, rice harvest, and industry. If you can, try the traditional New Year’s sweet, oshiruko. It’s a red bean soup that is particularly delicious on a cold winter day.
Bon Odori Summer Festival at Tsukiji Honganji
Obon (お盆) or just Bon (盆) is a Japanese Buddhist custom to honor the spirits of one’s ancestors by remembering and appreciating their sacrifices. People return to their ancestral hometowns, visit their families and also visit their ancestors’ graves. This has been evolved into a family reunion holiday during which people wear traditional yukata (or light cotton kimonos), get together, play games, dance in circles around yagura till they get hungry and then have food from stalls. This has been celebrated in Japan for more than 500 years. This Buddhist-Confucian custom originates from the story of Maha Maudgalyayana (Mokuren), a...
Top 5 Japanese Fashion YouTubers
Introduction If you love the quirky and cool Japanese fashion quotient, chances are you are always searching for Japanese fashion tip videos on your favourite social media sites, including YouTube. And why not? Some of the most amazing Japanese fashionistas – male and female – have taken over the YouTube channels to provide their dedicated viewers with tons of useful information about the latest trends in fashion and style. Whether you are looking for wardrobe makeover or just want to know what fashion brands are in vogue this season, these YouTubers have all the low-down you need. Many of these...
Top 5 Japanese Idol YouTubers
The world of Japanese Idols sure is fascinating, albeit a whirlwind. With a very competitive market, a lot of hopeful youngsters vie for a place in the industry. Usually, the only idols we know are those who are set to go onstage as タレント (tarento) or celebrities, based on their singing, dancing or comedic skills. However, there are also lot of people who have begun venturing in the digital world, mainly on Youtube. They are nowadays called Youtube idols. May it be for additional exposure, artistic freedom, or just as a personal hobby, these idols have definitely mastered the ins and...
Top 5 Japanese English Speaking YouTubers
One of the most important factors of putting up a Youtube channel is language. While Nihongo is quite known, it is certainly not enough if you plan on catering to a bigger audience. May it be lifestyle, culinary, beauty or fashion, using the universal language English is your best bet in attracting a wider reach. Introducing Japanese culture to an international community is rather difficult if the viewers only understand sugoi or oishi, right? Luckily, these Japanese vloggers (who are all household names on Youtube) continuously give us a glimpse of life in Japan – beyond subtitles. 1.Bilingirl Chika ＠bilingirl_chika ＠bilingirl_chika Adding a fun...
Izakaya Hopping in Kichijoji Harmonica Alley
Kichijoji has long been a famous tourist destination in Tokyo. Up until recently, Kichijoji has been ranked as the #1 most desirable place to live by Japanese and foreigners alike, and has a reputation for being a lovely and enjoyable place to live as well as visit. In the heart of Kichijoji, located less then minutes away from Kichijoji station’s bustling north exit, is the Harmonica Alley. Harmonica Alley (also known as “Harmonica Yokocho”), was originally a post-war black market; it now boosts over one-hundred bars, shops, and izakayas which are packed into it’s narrow streets. It continues to be...
What is "Ofuro Cafe"? - Japan's Ultimate Relaxation Center
Have you ever wanted to experience traditional relaxation from Japan? Well, we are going to do just that and talk about the ultimate in Japanese relaxation. I’m of course talking about the Ofuro Cafe. The Ofuro Cafe is your one stop shop for everything relaxing. It is very big in Japan but not so much over the rest of the world. Except maybe in Scandinavian countries where they practice a similar concept but in very different ways. So, prepare yourselves for something truly amazing that you may never have heard of before. What is Ofuro? @suno0809 A Furo is a...