Hatsumode in Hiroshima – Shrines to Visit for New Years and the Tondo Festival

ByHugh Cann
Dec 26, 2022

Hatsumode in Hiroshima – Shrines to Visit for New Years and the Tondo Festival

There are two main traditions marking the beginning of the new year in Hiroshima. Hatsumōde is the first visit of the year to a shrine and takes place throughout Japan. Later in the month is the tondo festival, which is just in Hiroshima.


The first visit of the year to a shrine or temple is an important Japanese tradition, usually taking place in the first three days of the new year. Around 80% of Japanese people follow this tradition. They offer gratitude for the past year and pray for safety and peace in the year ahead. Although hatsumōde is most common at shrines, it is also possible to visit a Buddhist temple.

After making ritual devotions before the altar, visitors draw folded strips of paper called omikuji from a wooden box – it’s a bit like a lottery. The traditional way of doing this is to shake an oblong box to make a stick of bamboo with an inscribed number fall out. You then pick a fortune strip with that number from a stack in a drawer.

The omikuji can cover quite a range of possibilities for your fortune.

(大吉, dai-kichi): great blessing

(中吉, chuu-kichi): middle blessing

(小吉, shou-kichi): small blessing

(吉, kichi) basic blessing

(半吉, han-kichi): half-blessing

(末吉, sue-kichi): future blessing

(末小吉, sue-shou-kichi): future small blessing

(凶, kyou): curse

(小凶, shou-kyou): small curse

(半凶, han-kyou): half-curse

(末凶, sue-kyou): future curse

(大凶, dai-kyou): great curse

Some visitors may write their wishes on wooden plaques called ema. The ema remain hanging at the shrine or temple where the kami (spirits or gods) will receive them. Visitors may also collect a seal for their temple or shrine seal book and purchase omamori – amulet or talisman for safety and blessings for the coming year. The most common amulets are beautiful small bags made of brocaded silk, often featuring the deity or sacred figure of the temple or shrine. Another type of purchase is a hamaya arrow: a demon-breaking arrow. The twang the bowstring makes is alone enough to chase off evil spirits.

In Hiroshima, the most popular places for hatsumōde are Gokoku Shrine (located on the grounds of Hiroshima Castle) and Itsukushima Shrine on Miyajima island.

Although it’s a subdued celebration, hatsumōde is a festive way to start the year – and certainly more in depth than simply making a new year’s resolution.

Tondo Festival

The Tondo Festival is the other significant new year event, held in mid-January (usually 14th or 15th) across Hiroshima prefecture. It is part of Koshogatsu, which means “little new year,” referring to the lunar new year.

In public parks, school grounds, and shrine courtyards, people gather around towering bonfires of bamboo and throw shimekazari – the ornaments placed above the doors of homes and businesses each December. Participants may also toss last year’s hamaya arrows and other talismans onto the bonfire. It’s all about leaving the old year behind to welcome in the new.

Many tondo festivals are small local events, meaning they’re a great way to interact with your neighbors. The festivities start with the lighting of the bonfire – a task often carried out by children bearing long torches who adults assist. As the bamboo kindles, the flames leap high into the air, producing loud pops and bangs as the air pockets in the hollow stems expand and explode.

Usually, you can easily find something to nibble. You may even have the chance to take a turn at the stone mortar to pound steamed rice into a paste. This paste forms mochi rice cakes, which are then either grilled (sometimes over the remains of the bonfire itself) or simmered in a thick sweet bean soup called zenzai – a classic taste of winter in Japan. There is also usually hot tea and warm cups of sweet sake to ward off the cold.

Tondo Festivals Around Hiroshima

Since Tondo is a community celebration, it’s worth finding out if there’s one happening in your neighborhood. Alternatively, several large events take place around Hiroshima prefecture. These draw big crowds and are more elaborate than some of the local Tondo. There are two main festivals and a number of smaller ones to consider.

Gokoku Shrine

One of the most popular Tondo Festivals in Hiroshima city is held at Gokuku Shrine at Hiroshima Castle. It always takes place on January 15th, no matter the day of the week. Expect large numbers of spectators and a festive feeling. Fun features include the firefighters dressed in traditional garb and the mochi grilled on long poles held over the fire embers, which are distributed to the crowd.

21-2 Motomachi, Naka Ward, Hiroshima, 730-0011 (map link)



Itsukushima Shrine

The Tondo Festival held at Itsukushima Shrine, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, takes place at low tide on the stretch of sea-damp sand between the shrine and its famous torii gate. An unpretentious affair, most visitors, happen upon the Tondo by luck. The sea, fire, open air, and vermillion architecture are magical.

1-1 Miyajimacho, Hatsukaichi, Hiroshima 739-0588 (map link)




Waseda-jinja, the local shrine in Ushita, offers a much smaller and more intimate experience than the two above. Just be warned that if you struggle with steps, you might want to choose elsewhere.

1-2-22 Ushitawaseda, Higashi Ward, Hiroshima, 732-0062 (map link)




Close to the Peace Memorial Park is Sorasaya Park. Although small, its shrine is the site of a Tondo Festival that always has an impressive bonfire. It’s a great choice for families as kids can enjoy the nearby playground and the festivities. Plus, all visitors receive a steaming bowl of vegetables in pork broth.

3-3-2 Honkawacho, Naka Ward, Hiroshima, 730-0802, Japan (map link)




One reason Nigitsu Shrine has a popular Tondo Festival is that it honors Ebisu: the god of luck and fortune. You can reach the shrine from Hiroshima Station — it’s just a 10-minute walk.

2-6-34 Futabanosato, Higashi Ward, Hiroshima, 732-0057, Japan (map link)



During the Tondo at Toshogu, Shinto priest blesses the good luck charms of the previous year. Once this religious ceremony is complete, visitors can roast mochi over the fire.

2-1-18 Futabanosato, Higashi Ward, Hiroshima, 732-0057, Japan (map link)



Another option to find a Tondo Festival to attend is to follow the plumes of smoke!

Photo courtesy of Matt Mangham

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