The Japanese New Year tradition of Hatsumode…
Hatsumode is the first visit of the year to a shrine or a temple, an important and much practiced tradition in the New Year in Japan. There are many shrines and also temples all around Saitama where you can practise Hatsumode. It doesn’t have to be one that has an hatsumode event on, but they do add a great atmosphere. However, with the pandemic still in our midst, some may prefer to go to one that isn’t going to be brim full of people. In that case, you can read this post as “where not to go, to avoid a crowded hatsumode in 2023!”
Technically you can celebrate Hatsumode at any time of the year, but typically it refers to a homage within the first week of the New year. Several shrines and temples have special hours and additional attractions between January 1st and 3rd. Moreover, some temples and shrines only open the inner, sacred, part of these places of worship to the public on New years day exclusively. An honorable mention to Miyoshino Shrine, which is one such place.
🎍Japanese New Year Tradition ~ Hatsumode 🎍
**Right now there is no stay-at-home directive in Saitama and there may never be one again. But as the eight wave of Covid grips the country, there is a chance a location may suddenly decide to close (or ‘need’ to close if there is an outbreak among staff) or change their hours due to the pandemic.**
Here is a selection of twelve of Saitama’s most famous temples and shrines, or places of note, for the first worship of the year. I’ve included hours and other details where available. Most of these have their main celebration and services from January 1st to 3rd:
1. Tsukinomiya, Saitama City
Given that 2023 is the year of the rabbit I am giving Tsukinomiya (also known as Tsuki shrine) the number one position for the 2023 list. Its actually Tsukinomiya’s first time to make my annual list of places for Hatsumode. The reason it features this year – it is lovingly known as the rabbit shrine. Tsukinomiya Shrine is bound to be even more popular in 2023 because of the Chinese Zodiac, which is inherent part of Japanese New Year. At Tsukinomiya Shrine there are rabbit statues all over the precincts and even the komainu are rabbits at this shrine. There are usually food stalls on the precincts for New Years.
Hours: subject to change depending on congestion levels, but usually the offices (for amulets etc) are open from midnight to 6 pm. The precincts are open 24 hours.
Address: 3-17-25 Kishi-cho, Urawa Ward, Saitama, 330-0064
Access: about a ten minute walk from Urawa Station
Parking: not available for New Years
2. Hikawa Shrine, Omiya
Musashi Ichinomiya Hikawa Shrine in Omiya is steeped in history, 2000 years of it. It is one of the many reasons people visit this shrine for hatsumode. Furthermore, another is that the Omiya branch is the head of all 280 Hikawa Shrines throughout Japan. Each year approximately 2,000,000 people visit the shrine. Furthermore, the walkway to the shrine is said to be the longest in Japan. There are usually food stalls from the 1st to the 7th of January along the walkway. The location within Omiya park also makes it a popular family choice for the Japanese New Year tradition of Hatsumode.
New Year Hours: gates open at 6 am from the 31st to the 7th. The shrine is open from midnight to 9.30 pm on the 1st. On the 2nd, 3rd and 4th they open at 7.30 am. Until 8.30 pm on the 2nd, 7 pm on the 3rd and 6 pm from the 4th to the 7th. From the 8th the hours are 8.30 am to 4.30 pm. (Usual hours from 9 am to 4 pm).
Address: 〒330-0803 Saitama Prefecture, Saitama, Omiya Ward, Takahanacho, 1-407
Access: 20 minute walk from JR Omiya and Tobu Kita Omiya stations
Parking: no parking between January 1st and 3rd (usually there is parking for 130 cars)
3. Washinomiya Shrine, Kuki
Washinomiya Shrine is regarded by many as the oldest shrine in the whole of the Kanto region. On top of an illustrious history, the shrine has a firm place in contemporary society thanks to its connection with the Lucky Star Anime. Thousands of Lucky Star fans travel to the shrine throughout the year, but particularly during the New Year celebrations and again in summer for a glimpse of the Lucky Star portable shrines. Washinomiya Shrine is the second most visited place of worship in Saitama over the period of the New Year. During the New Year period there are festival stalls and you can enjoy one of six annual kagura performances.
New Year hours: from 10 pm on New Years Eve, December 31st, to 5 pm on January 1st. On the 2nd and 3rd the hours are from 8 am to 5 pm.
Address: 1 Chome-6-1 Washinomiya, Kuki, Saitama 340-0217
Access: The nearest station is Washinomiya Station on the Tobu Isesaki Line. The nearest interchange is “Kuki” on the Tohoku Expressway.
Parking: during the New Year period it is hard to secure parking. The car park of the shrine is closed from 6 pm on New Years Eve. Moreover, the roads surrounding the shrine are also restricted from New Years Eve until the 3rd of January. There is some temporary parking at the Washinomiya Branch of Kuki City Hall, which is about a 15 minute walk away. However, it is best where possible to come by public transport.
4. Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine, Kawagoe
Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine enshrines the god of married couples. Therefore it is a popular place for recently engaged and newly weds to practice hatsumode. Moreover, by extension, many families like to worship at this shrine. Approximately 340,000 people worship at Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine over the first three days of the New Year annually. Supposedly it is the eighteenth most popular place in all of Japan for Hatsumode. For New Years they have some child friendly attractions such as fishing for your fortune (pictured) and they have children’s fortune telling paper as well. Moreover this shrine has English language fortune telling papers.
Hours: 8 am to 6 pm
Address: 2 Chome-11-3 宮下町 Kawagoe, Saitama Prefecture 350-0052
Access: 10 minute bus ride from Hon-Kawagoe station
Parking: As of April 2021 there is no longer any free parking at Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine. The old dai ni parking lot has been turned into a coin parking lot. It holds about 150 cars.
>>Another really famous / popular place for Hatsumode in Kawagoe is Hachimangu. There you can see Shishimai performances on January 1st and 2nd in 2023. More information here.
5. Menuma Shodenzan, Kumagaya
Menuma Shodenzan, a designated Japanese national treasure, is one of Japan’s three great Shoden temples. It is affectionately referred to as the Saitama Nikko for its stunning architecture. They normally have live performances on New Years as well as a Daruma market with food stalls. Furthermore, this temple usually practices the tradition of toiling the bell as the New Year starts from midnight to 1 am. HOWEVER, in 2023, they are requesting that people avoid hatsumode during the first three days of New Year. They would like people to practise “dispersed worshipping” .
Hours: 9 am to 5 pm
Address: 1511 Menuma, Kumagaya, Saitama Prefecture 360-0201
Access: 25 minute bus ride from JR Kumagaya station
Parking: for New year’s they have 300 free car parking spots
6. Yakyu Inari, Higashimatsuyama
At Yakyu Inari, commonly known as the baseball shrine , it is not uncommon to spot a baseball player here for Hatsumode! Therefore many would be baseball players visit in the hope of catching a glimpse of their favorite baseball player. The baseball bat amulets and prayer votives are also popular at this shrine. For the New Year festivities they have some food stalls on the precincts.
Hours: from 11.30 pm on December 31st to 4 pm on January 1st. From the 2nd to the 9th: 9 am to 4 pm.
Address: 2 Chome-5 Yakyūchō, Higashimatsuyama-shi, Saitama-ken 355-0028
Access: minutes walk from Tobu Tojo Line’s Higashimatsuyama station.
Parking: from January 1st to 3rd 100 spots, from the 4th they only have 50 car spots.
7. Koma Shrine, Hidaka
Despite the remote location of the 1300 year old Koma Shrine in Hidaka it attracts thousands of worshippers annually for Hatsumode. The main reason is the deity who is enshrined within: Komanokokishi Jakkoh. He was the first leader of the Koma area. Moreover, Komanokokishi Jakkoh is now believed to be the god of success and people come to pray for success during the year. His grave is in the stunning grounds of Shoden temple (information in English), also in Hidaka, just minutes walk away.
Hours: Midnight to 7 pm
Address: 833 Niihori, Hidaka, Saitama Prefecture 350-1243
Access: 20 minute walk from Komagawa station
Parking: free parking for approximately 500 cars
8. Chichibu Shrine, Chichibu
** I will be replacing this with Yakuyoke Kaiundashi Ryusenji for the 2024 list**
Best known among foreigners for the famous Chichibu Night Festival, the Chichibu shrine has a rich and fascinating history spanning 2100 years. About a million people visit the shrine each year.
New Year Hours: 6 am to 8 pm
Address: 1-３ Banbamachi, Chichibu, Saitama Prefecture 368-0041
Access: Close to Chichibu station
Parking: Free parking for about 30 cars and charged parking for about 50 cars
Image for ↑ Chichibu Shrine and ↓ Mitsumine Shrine from “Omotenashi Chichibu” website
9. Mitsumine Shrine, Chichibu
Popular among mountain climbers and hikers due to its location at 1,110 metres. It is said if you pray at the shrine for a miracle it may well come true. Moreover, the shrine is truly magnificent and worth a visit to witness the intricacy of the artwork. If you are hiking to the shrine from the front gate on route 140 it takes about two hours! But there is some stunning scenery along the way including the beautiful Toryu bridge.
Hours: 6 am to 6 pm
Address: ２９８−１ Mitsumine, Chichibu-shi, Saitama-ken 369-1902
Access: Over an hour on a bus from Seibu Chichibu Station
Parking: for 250 cars
10. Mt Hodo Shrine, Nagatoro
Another stunning place of worship in the Chichibu region, the Michelin Star Hodosan shrine attracts about a million worshippers each year. They come to pray for protection against disasters such as fires or theft as the dieties of this shrine are the fire God, mountain God and the first Emperor of Japan. Like the Mitsumine shrine, this shrine has wolf Komainu. The Chichibu area is famous for its wolf komainu. They represent the wolves (extinct unfortunately) which once lived in the Chichibu mountains. The shrine is located at the foot of Mt Hodo, with an auxiliary shrine on the summit. The summit is a popular place for hatsuhinode – watching the first sunrise of the year. The Hodosan ropeway starts from 6 am on New Year’s day only to accommodate sunrise viewers.
Hours: 9 am to 4.30 pm
Address: 1828 Nagatoro, Chichibu District, Saitama Prefecture 369-1305
Access: 15 minute walk from Nagatoro Station
Parking: for 60 cars
11. Kitain Temple, Kawagoe
There is a great festive atmosphere in Kitain over the New Year celebration period. Thousands come to practice the Japanese New Year tradition of Hatsumode. Reportedly, approximately 440,000 people celebrate hatsumode at Kitain annually. On January 3rd they have the popular Daruma market (information in English).
Hours: 7 am to 4.30 pm.
Address: 1 Chome-20-1 Kosenbamachi, Kawagoe-shi, Saitama-ken 350-0036
Access: 15 walk from Hon Kawagoe station, 20 minute walk from Tobu Tojo Kawagoe Station
Parking: for 100 cars, 500 yen for three hours. But it tends to be very busy during New Years.
12. Kanasana Shrine
Kanasana shrine is a very spiritual spot and very photogenic to boot. Moreover, it is only one of three remaining koshinto primitive shrines with no honden and only a haiden to venerate the mountain directly. Furthermore it is home to two naturally designated properties. You can read all the details here.
Hours: January 1st – 8 am to 5 pm, 2nd – 8.30 am to 4 pm, 3rd – 6 am to 5 pm
Address: 750 Ninomiya, Kamikawa, Kodama District, Saitama 367-0233
Access: By car, the Kanetsu Expressway is only a 30 minute drive on route 462 from the Honjo Kodama Interchange. By public transport: take an Asahi Bus bound for “Kamiizumi Sogo Shisho-Mae” from JR Takasaki line Honjo Station. And alight at Shinjuku bus stop from where it is a 20 minute walk to the shrine.
Parking: For about 25 cars
Do you practise hatsumode? Where do you usually go? Have you adopted any other Japanese New Year traditions?
Wherever you do go for your first homage I hope that the New Year brings you health, hope and happiness. Happy New Year!
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Originally published on December 27th 2018. Updated and republished, with new locations, on December 23rd 2022.