Happy New Year from Matsumoto! Hopefully everyone had a great beginning and end of the year ^^
Matsumoto was bustling with activity as people flocked to the local Buddhist temples and Shinto Shrines to ring in the New Year. The New Year’s festivities and rituals at temples and shrines begin just before midnight on December 31st, as many people want to make their first visit right as the clock strikes twelve (even in the freezing cold!).
On their visit, temple- and shrine-goers will usually line up before the main hall of the temple or shrine, make a small offering and prayer for the New Year, and then draw a paper « o-mikuji » (おみくじ) fortune which gives insights into how the year is going to play out for you regarding general luck, family, childbirth, marriage/love, travel, and other life events (they kind of remind me of a horoscopes…). Many people also get new « o-mamori » (お守り: blessed personal amulets for good fortune, health, etc.) for themselves or their homes for the new year.
I also paid a visit to a few temples and shrines around Matsumoto to see what was going on, so I’ll share some photos and insights here 🙂
Just before midnight, I visited Tosenji Temple in the Yamabe area. According to my Japanese neighbor, it’s good fortune to do a « ni-nen mairi » (二年参り), which translates to a « 2-year visit to a shrine/temple » — that is, by doing a double visit (including small offering and prayer) just before midnight and then right after midnight, you are in a way paying your respects to the shrine/temple over two separate years on the same day!
Upon arriving at Tosenji, they had a huge bonfire going, which not only helps keep people warm, but is also where you can « return » your old o-mamori amulets from the previous year by tossing them in the fire (you certainly wouldn’t want to toss an amulet blessed by a priest into the regular trash!).
The temple was also decorated with lit paper lanterns, colorful drapes, and there was a multicolored streamer attached to a huge pole so it would fly in the wind above the temple.
To bring in some extra good fortune, some people (including me) did their « ni-nen mairi » double visit, but in general, it seemed like most people showed up just after midnight.
The next day, New Year’s Day, I visited two of the main shrines in central Matsumoto: Fukashi Shrine and Yohashira Shrine.
Fukashi Shrine was fairly busy, but nothing compared to Yohashira Shrine—here, hundreds of people were lined up all the way to the main street waiting to pay their first visit to the shrine. To help keep people warm while waiting, the shrine was selling cups of hot amazake, a traditional sweet drink made sake lees (sakekasu) or koji, and steamed rice. Amazake is one of my favorite things about New Year shrine visits!
My last stop was the quirky Kasamori Inari Shrine dedicated to the white « inari » foxes. Here, you could buy pieces of fried tofu and place them at the shrine altar or at the base of the fox statues as an offering (because the white foxes apparently love eating fried tofu!).
The shrine also sold bundles of incense sticks which you could light and place in the stone incense bowl in front of the shrine building. Some people actually like to douse themselves in the smoke from the incense. Inside the shrine, a priest was selling small protection amulets, inari fox statues, and other items.
Did you spend New Year’s in Matsumoto? If so, feel free to share any photos or experiences on our Facebook page!
Again, happy New Year, and keep tuned in for more blog posts in 2018 <3