New Year's Day is celebrated quite differently here in Japan. There are no parties, no fireworks, no drunken crowds in the streets. The trains and buses run all night from the eve to the New Year so people can visit the shrines and temples. There, they pray for good luck and prosperity, buy charms to protect their families, and draw omikuji, a fortune for the year written on a piece of paper. Those who draw bad luck fortunes will tie that piece of paper on a tree branch in the shrine, and it is said the god will take on the bad luck for them.
I've been going to various famous shrines for the past few years, but since I had to work late into New Year's Eve, I decided to go to a local shrine called Hakusan Jinja this time. I noticed the temple on the way to the shrine allowed people to ring the bell, which is struck 108 times beginning a little before midnight and into the New Year to cleanse sins. I was there too late to be part of the ritual, but it still was enchanting to see the people taking turns striking the bell by the light from the bonfires as the monks watched nearby. Sweet sake was offered to those who finished the task. I proceeded to the shrine, which was couple minutes away from the temple. There already was a long line at the shrine when I got there. I was in the line for about 20 minutes in the freezing cold till I got my turn to offer my prayers. I tugged on the long rope with the bells attached to it, tossed in a coin, and prayed for health and well-being throughout the year. There was an area where people can place their old charms and other lucky items to be burned by the monks later on, so I took mine out from last year and threw it in the covered area. I bought my new charm and drew my fortune as the shrine maidens watched. It showed I barely had any luck, but the terrific fortune I drew last year really didn't happen either...so I decided to keep the paper for the heck of it. My friend texted me later that night to see if I wanted to go for another round of visiting the shrine. I suppose it doesn't hurt to offer prayers twice. Today I'm going to Kanda Myoujin. I went there last year (the CG company I worked for back then was in the area), and it definitely was more festive with small shops offering sweet sake and food for the visitors.
BTW, the pic is of a real-life shrine maiden. No, they don't fight evil monsters...they just sell lucky charms.