New Year’s Eve and New Year Holidays are a big deal in Japan. It is a time to spend with family members and friends. For the western world, it might be similar to Christmas. People here usually go to a shrine, mainly on January 1st (from midnight on 1st), 2nd and 3rd. This tradition is called “Hatsumode” which means visiting first time of the year.
So in this article, I’d like to introduce the three most popular spots during New Year Holidays. If you are planning to visit Kyoto during this time of year, be sure to plan carefully. I would not even try to visit them, because they are exceptionally crowded.
1. Fushimi Inari Shrine
Fushimi Inari shrine is located away from central Kyoto city, however this shrine is the destination of more than 2,500,000 people. Fushi Inari shrine is the top of many Fushimi sect shrines scattered around Japan. This is the busiest place in Kyoto during this season. Don’t get me wrong. Fushi Inari shrine is a fantastic and beautiful place. But unless you feel obliged to visit for religious reasons, you might not want to visit this place at this time of year. There are hundreds of places to visit in Kyoto, so I would visit other excellent spots instead to use time more effectively.
2. Yasaka Shrine
I have no information on how many people visit this shrine during New Year Holiday season, but this place is also filled with people, especially locals. Since this shrine is conveniently located, it is easy to access. However, depending on the time you visit, it might take 3 hours to get inside the shrine from the nearest station (Gion Shijo: Keihan), which usually takes less than 20 minutes.
3. Kitano Tenmangu
500,000 people visit this shrine from January 1st to 3rd. Compared to Fushimi Inari shrine where more than 2,500,000 people come, you might feel it is actually not bad. Well, I would beg to differ.
This shrine is popular amongst students, because the God enshrined here, Sugawara no Michizane is thought to be the God of studying, and the entrance exam season usually starts from February. So this time is your best chance to pray and make a wish.
They are all historical and prestigious, and you can visit if you are inclined to do so. Just plan wisely so that you can avoid the crowd as much as you can. Tip: Fushimi Inari and Yasaka shrines are open 24 hours during this season. So you can pick a time that you usually wouldn’t choose for example, 5:00 AM or 9:00 PM (Note: Don’t choose early in the morning on 1st!).