The Japanese New Year temple visit, or Hatsumōde, is an amazing experience well worth going out to see if one has any interest in viewing a Japan’s more traditional side. Coupled usually with Hatsuhinode, the first sunrise of the New Year, the whole event is nearly unforgettable. One of the most popular temple in Japan to visit for the Hatsumōde New Year visit is Narita-san, located within Chiba prefecture. Riding the Keisei line from Narita Airport, it’s only about a twenty minutes train ride. On the other hand, from Tokyo Station, it’s about one hour and thirty minutes taking the JR Sobu Line Rapid.
At the Narita temple, just the sheer number of shops lining the street is enough to keep one busy for a long time. Whether the famous sweet shops or local foods, there are so many things worth trying. There are even local forms of entertainment like a monkey that performs on stilts. The only drawback about the whole experience is the massive line that stretches up to Narita-san, before the Hatsumōde New Year visit. However, that itself is an experience. Not to mention, with the plethora of shops that will continue as you progress towards the entrance, there will be more than enough time to get a good idea about which stores are worth checking out along the walk back. The wait outside the temple is only about an hour and a half. While that may sound like a long time, given the number of shops and variety of historical architecture one can see, the line seems to move much faster. Still, bringing a few friends or something to help pass the time wouldn’t be a bad idea.
Reaching the temple gates, everything there and past is absolutely beautiful. The staircase leads up to the actual temple has a small pond about halfway to the top. Once you do reach the top, you get an amazing view. Progressing forward, you’ll reach a large incense burner where you can donate one hundred Yen to burning incense. The smoke is believed to have a healing power, making it common to fan the smoke towards oneself, especially towards any injuries. Now is where you choose one of three entrances to enter the temple itself. They all continue until the same place, so it really depends on your preference.
Once inside the temple gates, you slowly make way to the saisen box. Here, you can throw a coin inside and pray afterwards. Once you’re done praying, you’ll be free to see the rest of the temple, experience the various stalls near the entrance, or buy Omikuji (a fortune) or omamori (protection charm). There are even free guides available that can be booked by e-mail or just by asking staff at the Information Counter. However, the guide is only available from 10:00 until 15:00.
Despite going through the Hatsumōde New Year visit customs, one has still yet to experience the entirety of that which is Narita-san. Behind the Great Main Hall where you have just prayed, a pathway begins to the Great Peace Pagoda. The very tip can be seen far from where the line had begun. There’s even an absolutely stunning park. Being 165,000 square meters, it’s extremely large with its three lakes surrounded by cherry blossoms and plum trees.
Leaving the temple, you will return to the trail you came with. Unless leaving very late, it’s very likely the bustling New Year line looks exactly as long as it had been all day. Narita-san also happens to be famous for its grilled eel. Unless eel isn’t something you enjoy eating, stopping by any among the many grilled eel restaurants for a bite to eat will surely leave you satisfied. With many restaurants cutting the eel outside and having windows through which you can watch them grill the meat, they’re hard to miss. The restaurants are nearly all good choices, but be prepared, as the costs for a grilled eel set range from 3000 to 5000 yen depending on the amount you want.
Narita-san temple boasts numerous amazing reasons as to why anyone should come and visit. With just the architectural beauty of the temple and its balance with the park, one can truly taste a very different side of Japan. Plus, if one wants to experience even more traditional Japan, there is a calligraphy museum housing a large collection of works and materials from the late Edo period onwards. Not only that, but there are so many stalls and shops which sell traditional snacks and foods in many varieties. Narita-san temple is sure to leave anyone with a memorable experience. Don’t let the line keep you away from the place, it’s only that busy during the Hatsumōde New Year visits, and is still a great stop during any season.[cft format=0]