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Shinto integral to Japanese New Year's celebration

by Hiro Ishimaru, A&E editor

New Year’s Day is Japan’s most important holiday. At many family reunions gifts of money are exchanged, a traditional meal called osechi is eaten with a special sweet herb sake called toso, and families visit shrines and temples throughout Japan.


Instead of loud, midnight aerial fireworks and music, dancing, and drinking parties, it has been a Japanese cultural and religious tradition to visit a Shinto shrine with friends or family after midnight on the first day January. The fact that in Japan more than three million people pray at the Meiji Shrine, one of the famous shrines, on New Year’s Day suggests that many Japanese feel there is no more exhilarating experience (

“ New Year’s Day is one of the (best) opportunities to know what Shinto is,” said Daiya Amano, the head priest of Hawai‘i Izumo Shinto Shrine since 1983.

At the Hawai‘i Izumo Shinto Shrine, many private family services were held during the first few weeks of the year. The shrine is a major Japanese-American religious landmark, according to Richard T. Miyao, executive director of the Izumo Shrine Mission of Hawai‘i and editor-in-chief and one of the authors of Saga of a Church in Hawai‘i.

The main purpose of New Year’s visits, traditionally is to express gratitude for the past. Even though, today, many young Japanese men take women on dates to visit shrines (afterward enjoying karaoke and computer games, dancing, or partying) the visit is still essentially spiritual experience.

Called, hatsumoude, for “first visit,” the New Year service includes rites of purification and blessing, bestowed when the priest’s assistant waves a wooden wand with white paper signifying a spiritual wiping clean of the slate of the past so one can begin anew. The priests pray that life hereafter may be blessed with a renewed promise and the hope for health and well-being of the visitors and their families, many of whom purchase good luck charms for the year.


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