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The First New Year of Reiwa

This new year was the first new year of the Reiwa era. Although this year is Reiwa 2, Reiwa 1 started on May 1st last year, and so it did not have a New Year’s Day. Jinja Shinpō has, as normal, published a report on how things went. In general, the weather was good across most of the country, which will have been a big relief to the jinja that rely on hatsumōdë income to keep going through the year.

Meiji Jingū, in Tokyo, which typically has the highest number of hatsumōdë visitors of any jinja in Japan, this year reported 3,180,000 over the first three days, an increase of 60,000 on last year. Jingū, at Isë, reported about 560,000 visitors over the same period, an increase of about 40,000 on last year. (It is important to remember that Meiji Jingū is in a metropolis with a population of over 30,000,000, whereas Jingū is in a city with a population of about 125,000. That is, Meiji Jingū drew about 10% of the local population, while Jingū drew about 450%.) The increase in the number of visitors to Jingū may, in part, be due to the fact that Jingū played an important role in the abdication and accession ceremonies, as both the former and current Tennō visited Jingū last year to announce the changes in their respective statuses. Indeed, it seems that a total of about 9,700,000 people visited Jingū last year, the third highest number since records began in 1895.

The new era name, “Reiwa”, is taken from the record of a poetic evening gathering held in Dazaifu, in northern Kyushu, and there is a jinja that is said to stand on the site of the mansion where that gathering was held. Apparently, a lot of people visited that jinja when the era changed, back in May, but there were also quite a lot of people there for hatsumōdë. From a total last year of “almost no-one”, this year it was up to 30,000 people over the first three days; quite an impressive change. The biggest jinja in the area, Dazaifu Tenmangū, reported about 2,300,000 visitors, 100,000 up from last year. However, they also report that the number of people coming in the middle of the night has been declining for the last ten years.

The accompanying editorial was very interesting. Apparently, people attending hatsumōdë are too well-behaved these days. They do not seem to be celebrating with the people around them, but rather concentrating on paying their respects to the kami at the jinja. (“Young people today are too well-behaved and pious. Back in my day we knew how to break the rules and have fun.”) The author of the editorial had to say, naturally, that not causing trouble was a good thing, as was being respectful to the kami, but he was concerned that people might not feel that New Year’s Day is a real celebration now. In particular, he drew attention to the decline in the number of people dressing up to go to hatsumōdë, whether in kimono, or just in smart western clothes. This, and the improved etiquette, are both trends that have been visible over the last few years. It certainly looks as though the practice of hatsumōdë is changing, although it is not declining, and the changes cannot be described as negative.

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