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Monday, January 01, 2007

New Year Hatsumode Toyokawa Inari


Click here for the sound of New Year hatsumode at Toyokawa Inari shrine, Tokyo.

Toyokawa Inari shrine, Asasaka, Tokyo, at New Year.Hatsumode - the paying of respects to the gods on New Year's Day - happens at shrines across Japan just after midnight. Tokyo's subways, usually over by half past midnight, run all night to ferry the faithful - vast numbers of whom visit Toyokawa Inari, a grand, 700-year old Shinto shrine in Tokyo's Akasaka district, home to the god of commerce.

Lengthy queues formed up the street under the lines of red lanterns that lined the outside of the shrine. It was a chilly 3 degrees, but the sky sparkled with clearly visible stars and shone with a big bright gibbous moon. We took our place and waited our turn.

Being the god of commerce, however, he of course favors those who have met with success, and a group of Johnny's boys (pronounced 'jahNEEZ': a showbiz studio that turns out a steady stream of pretty boys who lip synch in glam 1980s get-up, producing automatic hysteria in teenage girls) appeared and were whisked right on in, producing an instant brief wave of panicky, pushy must-see blind devotion in the crowd's young female contingent.

Inside Toyokawa Inari, Akasaka, Tokyo, New Year 2007.After not too long a wait, we got to the front of the shrine (under the purple awning in photo at left) where the sound of coins being thrown into the box mingles with the clapping of hands and jangling of bells by supplicants, and the mumbling chants of the priests to the tock-tock-tock of a drum beat and occasional chimes. (Click on the link at the top of the page to hear an mp3 podcast of it.)

Even after paying one's respects, there are still things to do, such as divining one's fortune. My friend and I stopped at a small shelter with a chest of tiny numbered shelves, each with a stack of papers. In turn we shook the cylinder of sticks, took the one that came out the hole, found the shelf of the corresponding number and took the slip of paper. Both our fortunes were 'kyo', i.e. bad luck; in which case you don't take your bad luck home, but fold it into a strip and tie it, as we did, to the bare wintry branches of a shrine tree.

Daruma and maneki neko stall, Toyokawa Inari, Tokyo, at New Year.I bought a daruma (dharma) doll at a stall that sold both them and a few maneki neko (cats that beckon good luck). The daruma's eyes are without pupils. One you paint in when you make a New Year resolution, the other when you have achieved it.

After leaving the shine we went to the well-known traditional confectionery shop across the road, Toraya, for some New Year fare: bean-paste and rice-cake in sets that are more than mere snacks, but not really a meal either.

The train home at 2.30am was even more packed than the one we'd taken there. I must admit to having dragged my heels a bit heading out tonight into the cold; however, walking back home from the station I felt tangibly refreshed and invigorated, ready to face another wonderful year of whatever luck, or lack of it, may bring me.


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