Shinnen akemashite o-medetō-gozaimasu means “Happiness to you on the dawn of a new year.”
I like that a lot.
The celebration of the New Year is a big deal in Japan. At shrines and temples across the country, bells are struck 108 times at midnight on December 31, followed by the collective gobbling of soba noodles for good luck. The traditional hatsumōde is the first visit to a shrine in the new year, making these otherwise peaceful places akin to fairgrounds during the first week of January.
Not being much of a fan of New Year’s Eve, I prefer this low-key version much more, reserving my energies for my own personal new year a few days later. Having missed the ringing of the bells on the 31st, due to the cold weather and high winds brought with the New Year’s typhoon, we saved our hatsumōde for my birthday on the 3rd.
The lines were long and wound down the street, the rain started up a little and the crowds were shoulder to shoulder on the sandō (or pathway to the main shrine hall), but we made our way to the temizuya to wash our hands, threw our coins into the baskets and said a little wish at the haiden (hall of worship), and wrote our hopes for the new year onto wooden emas to hang at the shrine among the others. The last bit is my favorite part.
I’ve done this once before, in Fukuoka in 2009; all my wishes came true that year. I can’t think of a better way to start this one.