Hatsumoude is local tradition on New Year

Naminoue shrine in Naha is the largest in Okinawa and gets the largest crowds.

”Hatsumoude” is the Japanese traditional event in which folks worship at a shrine or a temple for the first time right after the new year begins, which means a Monday midnight night visit to a temple or shrine on Okinawa.

People offer one year of gratitude, or pray for the safety and the peace of the new year. During the visit, called  “Hatsumairi”  For a foreigner, the first question often asked is “What’s the difference between a shrine and a temple?”

Many visitors to Japan can’t tell the difference between a shrine and a temple and they often use

A huge bell by the entrance to Oki shrine is there for waking up the gods.

the terms interchangeably. Using the terms temple and shrine interchangeably is the same as using the terms church and synagogue interchangeably.  Two primary religions are practiced in Japan, Shinto which is practiced at a shrine and Buddhism, which is practiced at a temple.

Both religions date back thousands of years. The Shinto religion is a spiritual ideology that began back in the feudal days of Japan and is based on the belief that powerful deities called kami, or gods, inhabit both heaven and earth.  Each clan identified with its own kami and utilized a shaman or diviner to help them pray and often built shrines dedicated to their chosen kami .

Sueyoshi shrine in Shuri is built on an elevated base and stilts so worshippers have to climb the stairs to offer their prayers.

The Shinto religion was unified in the 700’s when the mythology was documented for the first time to include the various kami formerly worshipped by the individual clans. The Japanese refer to Shinto as kami no michi, the way of the gods, but the pronunciation of the Chinese ideographs that for the words is shin tao or Shinto.

Buddhism was introduced to Japan from China and Korea in the sixth century and gained wide acceptance in the following century when it was endorsed by the nobility.  The Japanese word for Buddhism is bukkyō, which is a combination of two words: butsu meaning Buddha and kyō meaning doctrine.

 Most people in Japan practice both faiths and there are no restrictions against doing so.  Shinto tends to be viewed as the religion of earthly matters and shrines are often used to host weddings and are where one would go to pray for success in life or business.  On the other hand, Buddhism is considered the religion of spiritual matters and temples usually host funerals and are where you would go to pray for your ancestors.

How to worship at a Shinto shrine

1)     Prepare yourself. Before leaving your home to the shrine, make an effort to bathe, or at least wash your hands and face. Cleanliness is vital in Shinto.

2)     Making a polite bow before entering the shrine under the torii. Often there will be a long pathway lined with toro called lanterns.  After making a bow right under the Torii, follow along it.

3)     Purify yourself. Stop once you reach the chozubachi, the water basin. Over the chozubachi, take the wooden dipper in your right hand and fill it with water. Pour the water over your left hand. Then take the dipper in your left and pour water over your right. Third, pour some water from the dipper into the cupped palm of your left hand. Rinse your mouth with this water, spitting it back out into the palm of your hand. You can dry your hands with a handkerchief, if you like.

4)     Proceed to the main part of the shrine. It is made not to stand in the center before a shrine if possible, and bows small. If there is someone there, wait patiently at the bottom of the stair for them to finish. Depending on how large the shrine is, it may be permissible for two or more people to worship at the shrine.

5)     Worship. Climb the stair. Throw your coin, often a hyakuen ¥100, into the sasenbako, the offerings box. Then ring the suzu , the bell, firmly a couple times. Take a step back, bow twice, then clap twice. Spend a few moments in prayer, if you like. Then bow only once again.

6)     Finish! Proceed back down the stairs. At this time, you can perhaps purchase an omamori or amulet, hang an ema, a prayer plaque, or partake in any special event the shrine might be holding.

How to worship at temple

There are some customs you need to follow when at a temple. Washing hands, donating money and checking out your luck are a few of them. Compared with Shinto, Buddhism doesn’t have complicated worshipping procedure.

Eight shrines in Okinawa

On the main Okinawa island, there are eight shrines which have received special treatment from the Ryukyu Kingdom, which was the government before the Meiji era. These are called eight companies of Ryukyu, or eight companies of Okinawa. Naminoue shrine, Oki shrine, Shikina shrine, Futenma shrine, Sueyoshi shrine, Asato Yawata shrine, Ameku shrine, and Kin shrine are the eight shrines of Ryukyu also called Okinawa. Only in Asato Yawata shrine, Yawata God is deified and Kumano God is deified in all others.

Main shrines to worship in Okinawa

Naminoue shrine, Oki shrine, and Futenma shrine are more popular shrines to worship.

1. Naminoue shrine

Address:  1-25-11 Wakasa, Naha city

Time: open 24hours (Dec 31~ Jan3)

           9:00~18:00 (Jan4~)Naminoue shrine is located on a cliff overlooking Naha Port, and has been loved as “Nanminsan”.

There are many visitors during New year holidays.

2. Oki shrine

 Address: 44 Onoyama, Naha city

    Time: open 24hours (Dec 31 and Jan 1)

               8:00~22:00 (Jan2 &3)

                9:00~16:00 (Jan 4~)

The New-Year’s-Eve festival which a Shinto priest raises a congratulatory address before 0:00 (New Year’s Eve), and strikes a drum 108 times, and the New-Year’s-Day festival which prayed for the new year are performed, and many persons will visit from every place for traffic safety prayer on the 3rd.

3, Futenma shrine

Address: 1-27-10 Futenma, Ginowan city

Time: open 24hours (Dec 31~ Jan3)

           7:00~19:00 (Jan 4~)

 Main temples to worship on Okinawa

There are many temples in Okinawa. We introduce main two poplular temples for “Hatsumoude” this time.

1. Gokoku temple

Address: 1-25-5 Wakasa Naha city, Okinawa

Time:  open 24hours (Jan1~Jan3)

Gokoku temple is one of Koyasan Shingon Mission in Naha city, Okinawa. This is head temple of the Shingon in Ryukyu (Okinawa). This one is the oldest temple among the temples in existing Okinawa.

2. Fukusen temple

Address: 617 Ishado, Nakagusuku village Okinawa

Time:  All day

This temple is specially good for praying for traffic safety.

It was founded in the end temple of the Narita-san in 1975. Originally Narita-san is the Naritasan Shinsho temple in Narita-city, Chiba which is Chisan Branch of Shingon head temple.

The first sun of the New Year’s Day rises from a Pacific ocean. In order to greet sunrise, many of worshippers pass in the precincts of a temple from midnight. It is very solemn at the moment of sunrise on New Year’s Day.