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New Year's Eve at Tokyo's Meiji Shrine
Visitors brave the cold and snow last year for New Year's blessings
David Michael Weber (crossfire)     Print Article 
Published 2005-12-31 17:37 (KST)   
Entrance Torii Gate to Meiji Shrine
©2005 D.Weber

Every year around the New Year, millions of Japanese visit temples and shrines to pray for health and good fortune for the coming year.

Crowd of visitors braving the cold weather
©2005 D.Weber

Typically Buddhist temples are visited on New Year's Eve and Shinto shrines on New Year's Day. With Meiji Shrine in Harajuku, Tokyo, thousands of visitors descend close to the midnight hour to get a jump start on getting in their New Year blessings.

A Snow-topped Chozuya for washing one's hands and mouth
©2005 D.Weber

Meiji Shrine enshrines the spirit of the Emperor Meiji (1852-1912) and his wife, Empress Shoken (1850-1914) and was constructed in 1920. It was burned down in the air raids of WWII and rebuilt in 1958. Unlike the ostentatious Toshogo Shrine in Nikko, Meiji Shrine in Yoyogi Park is simple and austere in the traditional style of Shinto architecture.

Visitors washing their hands and mouth with cold water
©2005 D.Weber

Last year a small snowstorm deposited several centimeters of snow on New Year's Eve bringing the temperature down quite low. Still in the hour before midnight, Yoyogi Park was filled with visitors willing to risk the cold in order to pray for good health for next year - though staying at home probably would have been more effective for that.

Crowds gathered at a Torii gate awaiting entrance
©2005 D.Weber

The police cordoned us off into separate small hordes and escorted us one slow agonizing step at a time.

The gatehouse to Meiji Shrine all lit up
©2005 D.Weber

When they at long last reached the main shrine, people would throw coins then clap their hands together and pray.

Hordes of visitors pray for a good New Year's
©2005 D.Weber

From there visitors exit the main compound where they can stock up on good luck charms sold at the shrine's stalls. Wooden prayer boards called ema can be purchased with the year's animal painted on one side. Purchasers will write on the back their hopes and wishes and leave them at the shrine.

Visitors exiting the main shrine compound
©2005 D.Weber

Meiji Shrine is a great place to visit early for New Year's Eve but if you come late don't expect a free champagne toast while you're waiting in line.

Shrine workers selling New Year's charms
©2005 D.Weber

Hot food for a cold night
©2005 D.Weber
©2005 OhmyNews
A native Tennesseean, David M. Weber is currently at the grammatical grindstone cranking out gerunds, dangling modifiers and perfecting tenses as an English teacher in Japan. In his travels, he has hiked the Inca Trail, been mugged in Mexico City, broke his leg in Switzerland, attempted to bike through Mexico and failed, climbed Pyramids in Egypt and Mexico, drank great quantities of beer at Oktoberfest and gambled at Monte Carlo.
Other articles by reporter David Michael Weber

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