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International Exchange

A closer look into: New Year in Japan

7 January 2020


I would first like to introduce myself, since I have been in my year abroad since September of last year, but since it took me all my strength and time to get used to life in the mysterious country that is Japan and its strict courseworks I have barely had time to breathe these past few months.

However, since the year is starting and I don’t want to give up on this amazing opportunity to share my experiences on this quick but challenging year abroad, I have decided to finally become a part of this amazing movement! So prepare yourselves, because on this first post I will be explaining how Japanese welcome the New Year based on what I have learned !

The infamous Yasukuni Shrine that has caused controversy for the nations of Korea and China, given that it commemorates those who died in service of Japan from the Boshin War 

On the very first day of the new year the Japanese will wake up as early as 5am to pay a visit to a shrine or temple. This custom comes from Shinto beliefs and it is called hatsumode, where one will pray for health, protection and success for the year coming. It is customary that one must line up and then throw a 5 yen coin as an offering to the kami (how it is referred to the gods according to Shinto), then clap twice, bow twice, clap twice again, and then make your prayer (usually with your eyes closed).

Once you approach to enter the shrine or temple, you will see a tall arch, sometimes in bright red colour, similar to the one seen on the picture above. This marks the division of the human world and the world of the kami, thus one must bow before entering. And when you make your way out, right after you pass the very same arch, you must turn around, so that you are facing the temple or shrine, and bow again, and then you can turn around and continue your way. This is to pay respect to all the deities.

As you have seen, there are many actions that one must perform when visiting a shrine or temple in Japan, and most foreigners are not really aware of them or might do them wrongly. To be honest, I was quite hesitant to visit one for these very same reasons, but you should not worry, since Japanese people do not judge foreigners for making mistakes as they know some of us do not share the same religion. Some Japanese were very surprised when they saw me praying in the correct form and even went out of their way to let me know, which made me very happy. So don’t be scared to try if you have the opportunity to do so !

I will talk more about the protocol of visiting a shrine and its important and cultural aspects on a later post, so keep an eye out for updates !

Until the next one!