Dec. 17, 2015 UPDATE
Kyoto is full of excitement as New Year approaches
As the start of the New Year, January 1st is the day for hatsumode. People pray for health, peace, and happiness. If you go to a popular shrine or temple, you are sure to be surprised by the size of the crowd. However, you do not want to let this make you go home discouraged. You will feel a sense of accomplishment and peace after offering a prayer for good health. If you just cannot handle large crowds, then we recommend visiting early in the morning (between 6:00 and 9:00) when there are fewer visitors. It is more exciting and fun if you go in a kimono. We recommend rental kimono, since they are very convenient. You will also want to stop off at the restaurants and Japanese sweets shops near the temple or shrine. Eating something delicious on New Year’s Day puts you in a good mood and makes you feel refreshed. Here we will introduce some recommended spots around the temples and shrines where people in Kyoto go for hatsumode.
Lots of great spots for Hatsumode! Start the New Year with some fun!
Fushimi Inari Taisha ShrineThis shrine has the most visitors for hatsumode in the Kansai region. It is famous for the large red-lacquered torii gate and the “Senbon Torii”, corridors of nearly 10,000 torii gates. It is open to the public all day long, so you can visit any time. Be sure to follow the pilgrimage trail on Mt. Inari behind the main hall. A full circuit takes about two hours, but it has plenty of natural beauty, and the scenery from near the summit is spectacular. We recommend taking a break at the tea shop on your way. On January 5th, you can see the chief priest and his attendants climb Mt. Inari.
If you go to Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine, eat here! “Inafuku”This restaurant is located on the approach to Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine. It is best known for the fragrant roasted quail grilled at the shop front. It has a fantastic aroma, and the light-colored meat is easy to eat. Another specialty is the grilled sparrow, which has a texture like liver and a flavor that will keep you coming back for more. Keep in mind that these dishes are available for a limited time only (mid-December to early February). They also serve udon, soba, oyakodon, and more.
Kitano Tenmangu ShrineKitano Tenmangu Shrine is dedicated to the gods of academic success. All throughout the year, many students preparing for exams visit to pray for success in their studies. They gather around the statue of a bull on the grounds called “Nade-Ushi”. This is because it is said that if you first stroke the bull’s head, then your own head, you will grow wise. The general public can participate in the “Tenma-Gaki” ceremony, held from 10:00 to 16:00 on January 2nd through the 4th, where people use a brush and ink to make their first calligraphy of the year while praying to improve their calligraphy.
If you go to Kitano Tenmangu Shrine, buy some Japanese sweets! “Oimatsu - Kitano”This long-standing Japanese sweets shop is located in a corner of the beautiful stone-paved hanamachi (the area where you will find shops with maiko) called Kamishichiken. The shop is built in the elegant style of a traditional merchant’s home. Their motto is to pass on Kyoto’s history and traditions to the modern generation through Japanese sweets. The anko used in the uncooked sweets has a refined flavor that is not too sweet, making it easy to eat. In addition to uncooked sweets, there are also sweets that can be stored for up to a month, so this shop is recommended if you are looking for souvenirs.
Kamigamo ShrineKamigamo Shrine is Kyoto’s oldest shrine. For hatsumode, visitors gather to ward off evil and drive away bad luck of all kinds. Many people buy sand used for purification. On January 7th, a ceremony called “Hakuba-Souran-Jinji” is held. A priest leads a white horse around the grounds. The ceremony comes from a legend that if one sees a white horse at the start of the year, evil spirits will be expelled for the rest of the year.
If you go to Kamigamo Shrine, eat here! “Kamogama”You can enjoy a variety of set meals at this café on the Kamogawa River. The interior uses warm natural wood, and you can enjoy nutritious set meals with seasonal vegetables, spicy curries, and more. You can also buy ceramics made in the adjoining pottery kiln. They sell a wide variety of knickknacks and accessories as well, so it is recommended for souvenirs. It is open for lunch and in the morning (9:00 to 11:00).
Shimogamo ShrineMany people visit Shimogamo Shrine to pray for marriage as well as good luck. A forest of thickly growing trees covering a vast area around the shrine, called “Tadasu no Mori”, has a sacred atmosphere. Just walking through it makes you feel like your spirit has been cleansed. During the time for hatsumode, okayu is served at the rest areas. People who are looking to get married to a special someone should visit Aioi Shrine on the grounds, which is dedicated to the god of marriage.
If you go to Shimogamo Shrine, this is the place for sweets! “Kamo Mitarashi chaya”This shop is located near Shimogamo Shrine. It is said to be the birthplace of Mitarashi-Dango, a standard on any Japanese sweets menu. The chewy, aromatic dango are grilled fresh when you order. They are generously doused in a brown sugar sauce. The small size makes them easy to eat. They often sell out before noon in the first half of January. We recommend getting there early.