Shinto, Uncategorized

New Year: A Time for New Beginnings

new year

New year has always been special to me in that it represents a new beginning, a releasing of the old and bringing in of the new. Even in the West, new year inspires us to make new years resolutions or goals – even if we rarely stick to them! Of course many people choose to bring in the new year by drinking themselves silly and spending a few days with a hangover before heading back to work.

As someone who loves organisation and goal-setting, new year has always been a welcome event. I enjoy cleaning and decluttering everything, dusting the kamidana and shrines, changing the sheets and making my yearly goals. I don’t make ‘resolutions’ as such, more long-term goals that I break down into smaller tasks that I know I can achieve.

In Shinto, the new year is a time of renewal and the most well-known custom is likely the millions of people who visit shrines across the country. The first shrine visit of the year – ‘Hatsumode’ – attracts millions of visitors – sometimes up to 3 million people in just a couple of days depending on the shrine.  People queue to pray to the kami for blessings, luck and success in the upcoming year. It is also common for many people to purchase omamori (lucky charms/amulets) and omikuji (fortune-telling strips) from the shrines.

On a spiritual level, new year is a time for us to rest after the business of the end of the previous year. We can reflect on how we want our year to go and make appropriate actions to ensure it goes as well as possible.

As a Shintoist outside of Japan, I am unable to attend a shrine for blessings and omamori, but I do have my own way of doing things. Here are some things as I for my own personal new year practices:

  • Paper slips: Instead of omikuji, I prepare slips of rice paper with 稲荷大神 (Inari-Okami) written on them in red or gold ink. If I have others with me at new year, I offer them a slip also. I then write 3 things I wish for in the new year and present the slips to Inari-Okami at my kamidana. Once I have prayed, I fold up the slips and either tie them to the sakaki or another plant. As I water all my houseplants with offered water from the kamidana, they all contain the essence of Inari-Okami. A year later on December 31st, the slips are removed and returned to the person. Once they have reviewed them, they may pray to give thanks at the kamidana. The slips are then burned before midnight and new slips are placed on the kamidana the following day.
  • Offerings: I make offerings to Inari-Okami regularly but on new year I add saké if I can get it, otherwise another alcoholic drink, cooked foods, fruits and vegetables, sweets and other foods. Sometimes I offer origami animals, incense, candles and other items. This years offerings are far from traditional, but they work!
  • Cleaning of the kamidana: On December 31st I remove everything from the shelf that my kamidana resides on. I dust everything and make sure everything is clean before replacing it. If anything made of fabric is tatty or old it will get washed or replaced.
  • Changing of the ofuda: It is customary to replace any ofuda on a yearly basis. I admit that because I am outside of Japan, this is not always possible but I do it as often as I can. As my Inari-Okami ofuda is from Fushimi Inari Taisha, I struggle to get replacements for it. My other ofuda can be replaced as they are from Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America, and so these are purchased a few weeks in advance. I do hope to purchase a membership to Shusse Inari Shrine of America soon, and will purchase my future Inari-Okami ofuda from there.
  • Changing of the shide and shimenawa: I change both the shide (paper ‘zig-zags’) and shimenawa (the rope from which they hang) annually. Together, the shide and shimenawa are one of the oldest symbols of the Shinto faith and represent sacred space.
My new homemade shimenawa! And yes, that IS a burn mark from a candle on the ceiling!

Here are some photos from making the shimenawa! The rope is 100% natural hemp and was fixed up with string hemp and hooks. The paper is Japanese washi paper.

  • Cleaning the house: I make it a goal to get everything cleaned and decluttered before new year. I feel that because my home houses a kami in the kamidana, then my house is pretty much an expansion of the kamidana and should be treated with the same respect. Of course, I work from home so it can be difficult to keep it clean all the time so I at least make sure to do a weekly clean. Decluttering also helps me get rid of old energy and make space to bring in new blessings.
My cat Tama ‘helped’ me with the cleaning!

I’m really looking forward to new year as I love the fresh energy it brings in. I also love the quieter months of the year where we’re not stressing about money or going out to social events constantly. It’s also a time of rest before I have to start rushing about getting ready for conventions and events later in the year!

This year I’m going to try and do my own version of ‘hatsumode’ and go out to my local nature park. It’s a special place where local pagan and druid groups often perform equinox and other rituals and was partially founded by pagans. I have limited mobility so it’s going to be quite the pilgrimage even if it’s only about a 30 minute walk but I’m going to try my best.

I’m thinking that it will serve as a measure of my faith – I aim to go out even if it’s raining or snowing. I’m going to take my medical equipment with me and wrap up warm. Wish me luck I guess!

I’d also love to hear what other people who are Shinto and outside of Japan do for new years! Or maybe you’re of another faith that is outside it’s ‘headquarters’. I’d love to hear your stories!

Thank you for reading and I wish you all a blessed and exciting 2018!

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