初詣 Hatsumode: First visit to a shrine or temple in the new year.
Every year on January 1st, I visit a temple or shrine. Here in Okinawa, I am lucky enough to have a temple within reasonable walking distance from my house, Naritasan Fukusen-ji 成田山福泉寺 (reminder, the “ji” 寺 means temple).
After a big shopping trip to pick up some fukubukuro 福袋 (lucky bags), we bundle up and climb the hill up to the temple. We walk rather than drive due to the extremely heavy amount of traffic around the temple. As we make our way up the hill, we pass a long line of cars idling on the hill, waiting to make it to the top and eventually park. We bring along old omamori お守り (amulets/protective charms) from the previous year; these are tied along the temple property (there will be be strings or ropes or posts to attach the omamori, then the monks will come through to collect them for the burning ritual).
Once we finally reach the top, there are a few tents selling food and drinks. We join the end of the line to pray at the temple and purchase new omamori for the year. The line is usually quite long. When we get close enough, we cleans ourselves at the temizuya 手水舎 (water fountain).
As we approach, we toss offerings into the box and pray for a prosperous and healthy new year. Afterwards, we head to the omamori tables and choose some assortment for the house, the car, or maybe some personal ones.
Besides omamori, it is fun to draw a fortune, omikuji おみくじ. Most temples and shrines have some in English as well as Japanese. After reading our fortune to see if we have good luck, middle luck or terrible luck, we usually tie the omikuji to a tree. I have heard both versions of tie it to a tree to leave bad luck behind, or tie it to tree to make sure it comes true. Well, whichever it is, I almost always do it no matter what.
Many places will also offer a small cup of New Year’s sake, too. At this point, most of what we have come to do at the temple is finished, and it is time to head back down the hill to home. It is a small ritual that I enjoy every year, both here in Okinawa as well as in Hawai’i.
This year I donned kimono for hatsumode; some people stared, but everyone was complimentary about it. After all, how often do you see a westerner wearing a kimono that she put on by herself? As it is in Okinawa, very few people wear kimono for hatsumode, but I wanted to go at least once to the temple in kimono.
If you cannot make it on Jan 1st, many temples and shrines in Okinawa actually stay open 24 hours, for as long as the first week in January. So don’t sweat it if you do not feel like dealing with the crazy amount of traffic the first day (or the second or third days since traffic remains heavy around these areas)… wait until a few days later and you can still participate without the crowds! On the 15th of January, we gather up are shimekawa (and other decorations as necessary) and take to the temple for burning.
Naritasan Fukusenji 成田山福泉寺 address: 〒901-2403 沖縄県中頭郡中城村字伊舎堂617
Some other popular temples and shrines in Okinawa to check out during the New Year:
Okinawa Gokoku Shrine