This is the view from the top of the Irohazaka road north of Nikko back out across the Tochigi mountains:
A traditional start to the new year is hatsumode (初詣), or first shrine visit. Around 12 million people visit the top five shrines around the country visit to pray for good luck throughout the coming year. It’s also not only for good luck. Many shrines specialise and people come to pray for everything from help in passing exams to having a baby. To keep the good luck with them throughout the year, omamori (お守り), or good luck charms, can be bought from the shrines. You’ll often see school children with them hanging from their bags. What is also little known is that after the exams, or whatever it was bought for, the omamori is supposed to be brought back to the same shrine and thanks given:
The most popular shrine in Japan for the new year visit is Meiji Jingu in Harajuku, Tokyo. In fact, 3 million people visit Meiji Jingu shrine alone in the first three days of the year. Sake barrels, donated by corporate sponsers, line the route to the main shrine:
This is the main torii entrance to the shrine:
This year’s Chinese zodiac symbol is the snake (much to M’s horror as she hates snakes!) and you’ll see images of them everywhere this year:
Lantern on the front gate to the shrine:
This is the main hall of the shrine:
People lining up to pay their respects:
After praying at the shrine, many people buy a fortune paper to see what’s in store for the year:
Or buy a hamaya (破魔矢), literally ‘demon destroying arrow’, to keep you safe in 2013:
This is a hiking trip to Oyama mountain, near Yokohama. Unfortunately, the snow was too deep to make it all the way to the top! That had to wait until summer…
These are the stairs up to Oyama-dera temple.
And this is the temple.
View towards Yokohama from Oyama-dera.
View from half-way up the mountain.
And this much for next time!
Just north of Tokyo is Kawagoe, or Little Edo as it is also sometimes called. There are some preserved buildings from the Edo period (1604 – 1868) and is a very pleasant place to walk around. Off the main tourist area, and less well known, is Kita-in temple, thought to have been founded in 830AD, and very important during the Edo period. The last remaining structures from the old Edo castle (once the biggest in the world) are still here. It is quite popular now for Japanese at hatsumōde, the first shrine visit of the New Year:
The most amazing part of the shrine, however, is the hundreds of small statues that were carved between 1782 and 1825. No two are alike.