The New Year’s Holidays in Kyoto

April 16, 2004

by SHINGU Saori

At the beginning of the year, Japanese peoplevisit a shrine or a temple to pray for their happiness in the coming year. This characteristic Japanese custom is called hatsumo(-)de. There are many kinds of shrines and temples in Kyoto, and they each have a divine grace: for health, good-luck, happiness, and peace. They also have special functions which are connected with the new year.

A large number of people who come from all over Japan choose their best temple or shrine, visit it, and also appreciate the events. The following articles describe some of these temples and shrines.

a perfect state of health

In 951 AD, Kuya-shonin, the second son of the Emperor Daigo, opened Rokuhara-Mitsuji Temple in Higashiyama, Kyoto. He travelled around Japan preaching the invocation of Namu Amida Butsu and dispersing evil sprits. In 951 AD, the Emperor Murakami suffered from a serious illness, so Kuya-shonin went around Japan preaching again, visited people who were sick, and let them drink his tea. After that, the Emperor Murakami recovered completely, so the tea became famous. This custom has continued until now, although the style has changed, and people can drink it only during the first three days of the new year.

This special tea ceremony, O(-)buku-cha, is held from January 1st to the 3rd at Rokuhara-Mitsuji Temple. People drink it hoping for good health for the whole year. This tea contains Japanese apricot and tangle which is a type of seaweed. You can enjoy the taste which is different from the usual Japanese green tea in the Japanese atmosphere of the temple.

progress for calligraphy / success in studies
Fudehajime-sai / Tenma-gaki

Kitano-Tenmangu Shrine is dedicated to Sugawara no Michizane, an ancient politician, poet, and calligrapher. He showed literary talent from his childhood and became active in the government as a public servant when he grew up. During the reign of the Emperor Daigo, Sugawara no Michizane was the second most important minister in the government, and enjoyed the fullest confidence of the Emperor. Someone who was jealous of him made a false charge that Sugawara no Michizane had betrayed the Emperor. The Emperor Daigo didn’t trust Sugawara no Michizane, so he sent him to a distant island, Dazaifu. Sugawara no Michizane was disappointed and passed away 2 years later in exile. After he died, Kyoto, the capital, suffered a series of disasters: epidemics, fires, and other natural calamities. People were afraid, and rumors began that these calamities were caused by the ghost of Sugawara no Michizane. In 987 AD, the Emperor Ichijo gave him a divine title, Kitano-Tenmangu Tenjin, as a token of the Emperor’s gratitude for his efforts and prayed that Sugawara no Michizane would restrain his anger. Since then, this shrine has been visited by not only the general public but also by the Japanese Imperial Family. Also, this shrine houses the god of studies, so many students who are preparing for their examinations visit there every year.

Fudehajime-sai and Tenma-gaki are held from January 2nd to the 4th. On January 2nd, people pray to Sugawara no Michizane for the success of Tenma-gaki is and for calligraphy achievement. After that, from the 2nd to the 4th, people do their first calligraphy of the year, kakizome and pray that they will improve their ability. This is called Tenma-gaki, an event connected to the excellent calligrapher, Sugawara no Michizane. Works of calligraphy are displayed inside the shrine from the 2nd to the 4th, and also they are examined and some of them selected by famous calligraphers, and for public recognition.

prosperity in business

Toka Ebisu Kyoto-Ebisu Shrine is one of the three biggest shrines which are called “Ebisu” in Japan; Nishinomiya-Ebisu Shrine and Osaka- Imamiya-Ebisu Shrine are the others. This shrine is commonly known as “Ebessan,” and its divine grace is prosperity in business. Ebisu is one of the Seven Deities of Good Fortune, and he presides over wealth.

Toka-Ebisu, which goes by the name of Hatsu-Ebisu, is connected with his grace and is held from January 8th to the 12th annually. During these days, visitors can receive precious things: bamboo grass, a straw bag, a bamboo rake, a charm, an amulet, a gold coin and other special good luck items. Above all, the bamboo grass with a straight, elastic trunk and leaves that don’t wither quickly is a symbol of success in business. Also, kagura which is sacred Shinto music and dance is held all night during Toka Ebisu.

These are only a few examples of New Year’s events in Kyoto. Of course, there are many other shrines, temples, and events. Please visit other pages on this website and find a place that interests you.

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