The last darkness of the old year gives way to the first pale light of the first morning on the new year. Just before dawn on New Year’s Day I visited Akagi Shrine in Tokyo’s famous Kagurazaka district. This shrine is easily the most modern shinto shrine in Japan – all glass, concrete and machine cut stone! It was bitingly cold night but I stood around to enjoy the last of the moon before the sun came out. There was a steady stream of visitors even at that time, mostly couples or men and women coming alone, but also a few locals offering bottles of sake or boxes of fruits to the shrine and even a rowdy group of drunk young men. If you’re ever in the area, this is one of the must see shrines of Tokyo!
One of the beautiful traditions of New Year’s in Japan is the gifting of hagoita (羽子板), ornamented flat wooden bats originally made for playing a game very similar to badminton. Back in the old Edo period, these hagoita were often painted or lacquered but over time they became more and more decorated and these days they are absolutely bedecked with ornaments, dolls and decorations. Even in the few years I have lived in Japan I have seen these hagoita getting more and more beautiful. These hagoita are traditionally sold in or near temples and shrines and one of the biggest hagoita markets in Tokyo is the annual Toshinoichi market, at Asakusa’s Sensoji temple. This year the hagoita market takes place between the 17th to the 19th of December, so if you are reading this and have some free time in Tokyo I recommend heading over there today or tonight!