New Years in Japan is laser-focused on firsts. You have your first sunrise of the year, which is very important, and other firsts like the Shinnenkai parties to bring in the New Year. Easily the most important of these New Year’s rituals is hatsumode. Hatsumode is the first visit of the year to a shrine. Sometimes temples will suffice, but traditionally the temple is for ringing out the year. Sometimes, this can be literal, as you can hear people ringing temple bells all night on December 31. You can make your first trip to a shrine at any time of the year, but the best and most fun time is during the first three days of the year, starting at midnight on the first. You can visit your local neighborhood shrine, but generally, the bigger shrines will have events, performances, charms for sale, and even food stalls set up to enjoy the visit. With all this said, we have compiled a list of some of the best places to enjoy hatsumode in Tokyo.
Meiji Jingu Hatsumode
It is hard to pick the top spot on this list as the competition is fierce, but my love of Harajuku won out, so I am listing Meiji Jingu. This is one of Japan’s top three shrines and is the most famous shrine to visit for Hatsumode. Over the first three days of the year, you will see more than 3.1 million people paying their respects and making their New Year’s prayers. It has recently been considered a power spot where pilgrims can draw power for the coming year. All that said, it is incredibly crowded, with lines taking hours to get to the front. It isn’t uncommon for impatient visitors to even throw their offering coins over the heads of the crowd rather than wait to get to the front.
Meiji Jingu Shrine
Asakusa Kannon Hatsumode
Way across town, we come to the other big place to visit on New Years. Asakusa Shrine is one of the 840 important shrines in Japan and is another popular hatsumode spot. You will find it right next to the world-famous Sensoji Temple, and on most days, it’s actually quiet compared to its famous neighbor. This is not the case on New Years, though. The proximity to the temple means you can ring the bell at Sensoji at midnight and then go next door to the Shrine to make your offering.
From January 1 to 6, a Buddhist ceremony called Shushou-e is held to pray for good luck and happiness in the coming year and to drive out evil spirits
Asakusa Kannon Shrine
Ojiinari Jinja Hatsumode
This place isn’t as famous, but if you are spending only one New Year in Japan, it is worth visiting the Fox Parade. The local legend is that foxes from all over Japan, cleverly disguised as humans, visit this shrine every year at New Years. The celebrated Ukiyo-e master Utagawa Hiroshige even made a painting of the event. In modern times, we now have the hatsumode Oji Kitsune-no-gyoretsu Fox Parade.
The parade is an annual New Year’s Eve event where people gather from 9:30 pm with chochin lanterns representing the light of life and hope and wishing for the sound growth and happiness of the children. The unique thing about this parade is that nearly everyone wears Fox masks, children’s faces are painted, and stalls sell fox alcohol. It is quite impactful if you are able to attend and you really find yourself feeling surrounded by the spirits. This is the first year to hold it again since the pandemic so it definitely is worth a visit.
Okunitama Jinja Hatsumode
There are places worth visiting outside of the 23 wards. There is the nearly 2,000-year-old Okunitama shrine in the western Tokyo suburbs. More than half a million people make their hatsumode visit here every year.
You can witness the Hatsu taiko ceremony at midnight on New Year’s. This is where three beats of the first drumming of the year are sounded off in the shrine at midnight on New Year’s Day, which is said to ward off sickness and evil for all those within earshot.
Kanda Myouijin Hatsumode
Kanda Shrine has a special place in my heart due to the spectacular Kanda Matsuri, but it is also a great place to visit for those of us on the Eastern side of the metropolis. It’s not as crowded as some other sites, but it can still be pretty busy. You can even watch the live stream from their website. Being close to Akihabara, many of their souvenirs even have an anime style to them, which is also pretty fun.
Kanda Myoujin Shrine
2-16-2, Sotokanda, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 101-0021