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Sacred Spaces: Exploring Fukuoka’s Ancient Shrines for Hatsumode

New Year’s Day, or “Shogatsu,” is a revered holiday in Japan, and many people engage in “Hatsumode.” Hatsumode is the initial shrine or temple visit of the year, where people express gratitude for the past year and pray for safety and health in the coming one. This article introduces the Hatsumode customs and recommends shrines to visit.

Sakurai Shrine, 櫻井神社

What exactly is Hatsumode?

The tradition began with “Toshigomori,” where the head of a household would stay overnight at the local shrine from New Year’s Eve to New Year’s Day morning. This practice eventually split into “Joya-mairi,” which involves visiting shrines on New Year’s Eve, and “Gantan-mairi,” which is visiting on New Year’s Day morning, the latter of which has become the current practice of Hatsumode.

Joya-mairi continues to this day. Temples still ring the “Joya-no-Kane” bell 108 times on New Year’s Eve to symbolically dispel the 108 worldly desires. During this time, the resonant sound of these bells can be heard throughout the night, as people visit temples for Joya-mairi.

Modern Hatsumode practices are flexible, allowing visits not just on New Year’s Day morning but at any convenient time. Nevertheless, many people still flock to shrines immediately after midnight on New Year’s Day. Major shrines can attract several million visitors over the first three days of the New Year, creating an atmosphere akin to a festival, complete with food stalls and celebratory crowds.

In Fukuoka, a unique custom called “Sansha-mairi” involves visiting three shrines for Hatsumode. This tradition, not commonly seen outside Fukuoka, was also observed by the Kuroda clan, lords of the Fukuoka Domain during the Edo period. Participants can complete the visits in one day or over several days, and both large and small shrines count. Visitors are encouraged to visit any shrines they encounter in the city.

Toka Ebisu, 十日恵比須神社

Recommended Shrines for Hatsumode in Fukuoka

Here are some shrines in Fukuoka city that are ideal for Hatsumode. These shrines are not only perfect for the New Year tradition but also offer a year-round experience of Japanese culture.

Kushida Shrine
Kushida Shrine, revered as the guardian deity of Hakata Town, has been cherished by locals for centuries. Legend has it that the shrine was founded in 757 AD, with the current shrine complex built by Toyotomi Hideyoshi in the 16th century. It is the venue for the ‘Hakata Gion Yamakasa,’ an emblematic festival of Hakata held every July. A beautifully adorned ‘Kazariyamakasa’ is on display year-round within the shrine grounds.

1-41 Kamikawabata-machi, Hakata-ku, Fukuoka

Kushida Shrine, 櫛田神社

Sumiyoshi Shrine
Near Hakata Station, Sumiyoshi Shrine is a historic sanctuary accessible within the city. Its roots stretch back over 1800 years, and it is recognized as the oldest of the roughly 2000 Sumiyoshi shrines nationwide. Although the area around the shrine is now on land, it was once seaside, which is why it is dedicated to deities of the sea and maritime safety.

3-1-51 Sumiyoshi, Hakata-ku, Fukuoka

Sumiyoshi Shrine, 住吉神社

Hakozaki Shrine
Founded in the early 10th century, Hakozaki Shrine is known for its impressive gate and the phrase ‘Tekikoku Koufuku’ inscribed upon it, advocating for conquering through virtue rather than force. The shrine gained renown during the 13th-century Mongol invasions when prayers were believed to have summoned divine winds (‘kamikaze’) that helped deflect the threat. Today, it is venerated for its powers of protection and good fortune.

1-22-1 Hakozaki, Higashi-ku, Fukuoka

Hakozaki Shrine, 筥崎宮

Kashii Shrine
The inception of Kashii Shrine dates back to 200 AD when Empress Jingu built a shrine to deify her husband, Emperor Chūai. Subsequently, the Empress herself was also enshrined, and the shrine became a protector of couples and families. As one of the only sixteen ‘Chokusaisha’ (imperial ritual shrines) in Japan, it hosts an imperial envoy for ceremonies every decade. The elegant avenue of trees leading to the shrine was designed to welcome this envoy.

4-16-1 Kashii, Higashi-ku, Fukuoka

Kashii Shrine, 香椎宮

Atago Shrine
Atago Shrine, founded in 72 AD, stands as one of Fukuoka’s most ancient shrines. Perched on a hill 68 meters above sea level, it offers a stunning vantage point over Hakata Bay and Fukuoka’s urban landscape. Historical records suggest a watchtower was erected at its summit in the 12th century. The shrine is a popular spot for viewing the ‘first sunrise’ of the year, drawing crowds annually for Hatsumode.

2-7-1 Atago, Nishi-ku, Fukuoka

Atago Shrine, 愛宕神社

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Published: Dec 22, 2023 / Last Updated: Dec 22, 2023

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