I am still not sure when the tradition of self-decorated anime styled ema started over at the famous Kanda Myojin Shrine near Tokyo’s anime heart – Akihabara. Even then it is one of my favorite things to do in the new to visit the shrine and have a look at this year’s new ema. I visit quite early in the new year and since then I am sure there have been many additions, but these are some of the better ones I found. Normally you buy one of the plain ema at the shrine and write your prayer for the coming year, but some people take the extra step of decorating their own ema. All of these votive plates will eventually be consumed in a ritual fire that will help cleanse the prayers and the people offering them. You can see last year’s post on the same subject over here.
My goal for every New Year’s is to perform my Hatsumode at three shrines before the rise of morning sun. Personally I don’t ask for anything when I pray at these shrines, I just express gratitude for being alive and in good health to see the start of a new year, and to pay my respects for the coming year. The last of the three shrines I visited this year was right in line with the large Yasukuni Shrine and the tiny Tsukudo Shrine, it was in fact the parent shrine of that last little shrine, the hill top Tsukudohachiman Shrine (筑土八幡神社). It’s origins have been lost in time and war, but the original shrine was inaugurated here sometime between 809 AD and 823 AD, after an old man in the area claimed to have heard from the god Hachiman in this spot. In 1945 AD the shrine was completely destroyed by the US Air Force in one of the many raids of that year, only the Torii (built in 1726), the gate, remained mostly unharmed from shrapnel and fire and it is today the oldest Torii in Shinjuku ward. I didn’t get a good photo of it unfortunately.
Walking towards Iidabashi Station from Yasukuni Shrine you will encounter two more shrines on the side street, one of which is the very famous and hugely popular Tokyo Daijingu, the other one being the almost completely hidden tiny little Tsukudo Shrine, nestled inside and underneath one of the many tall office buildings in the area. It might not look like much to the world but it has a long and proud history, having been founded in June 940 A.D., almost 1075 years ago. It was moved to the present location after having been damaged in World War 2. The shrine today consists of a brand new torii gate, a main shrine building and a smaller inari shrine to the side. You’ll need a good map and a keen eye to find it!
This year’s New Years was spent at Yasukuni Shrine in central Tokyo. We were ushering in the year of the Sheep according to the zodiac, in addition to the wester year 2015 or the 27th Year of the reign of Emperor Heisei or the year 2675 according to the old Japanese Imperial reckoning. As usual there was plenty of people, lost of food stands and as always the different scout groups stood at attention around the fires. Hatsumode is the traditional first visit to a shrine in the new year and most people perform it within a few days of January first, if not at midnight itself!