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). Some of the bigger shrines/temples may even have a large omamori collection bin to put them in.
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. At most temples, when we get close enough, we cleans ourselves at the temizuya 手水舎 (water fountain); the ritual is like a type of misogi 禊 (cleansing before entering the shrine). Remember: hold the wooden dipper in your right hand and first pour over your left, then switch and pour over your right hand, then switch again pouring a little into your left hand and use it to rinse your mouth (please don’t spit back into the basin!), and finally turn the ladle upright so the remaining water rinses over the handle. At Naritasan Fukusen-ji, there is a sign at the basin: instead of the hand/mouth cleansing you are supposed to throw water at the statue’s face 3 times for luck, so don’t be surprised to see this strange act at the temizuya!
As we approach the main worship area, 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.
There are a few food tents set up, so often I like to grab a dango 団子 or daifuku mochi 大福餅, and an amazake 甘酒 or hot zenzai ぜんざい.
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 our shimenawa (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:
Futenma Shrine: extremely popular; many foreigners visit this one since it is close to the American military bases.
Naminoue Shrine: probably one of the most popular to visit! Tents with foods and goods line the street as you approach the main area. It is very crowded– but pretty spectacular to see! This shrine also draws a lot of tourists, both foreign and domestic.
Okinawa Gokoku Shrine: another extremely popular shrine to visit! Again, tents with foods, games, etc line the street… it is so crowded here, and you will have to wait a bit until you can get in. But again, it is an amazing site to see, and a lot of fun. This one offered nihonshu (sake); there will be a salt box, so grab a small pinch of salt, then a cup and go for it.
Awase Bijuru (shrine): This is rather small, but still crowded with locals! It is very cute, and you will probably need to wait in line a bit depending on when you go. Don’t expect much food or games here. It is a much smaller scale than the Naha shrines.
I will add a link with some uploaded pictures of all the different Okinawa shrines and temples at New Year’s… I visited quite a few!