Thursday, January 26, 2012

Yesterday at Narita's Hatsu-mōde Festival

The  Shinshō-ji  (新勝寺 ) Buddhist temple in Narita-san, Chiba prefecture, near Tokyo’s Narita airport (NRT), is one of Japan’s most popular temples to visit for the month-long (January) Hatsu-mōde (初詣) - a Japanese citizen’s first shrine visit of the New Year, where trains run all night long between Tokyo and Narita on New Year’s Eve.  Built in 940, Shinshō-ji Temple has The Great Pagoda of Peace set within the tranquil Naritasan Park.

I walked along Green Street yesterday, one of the old streets of Narita, and arrived at the temple before 9:00 am - a bright, but very damp and cold morning.  I kept slipping on the icy sidewalk, and kept thinking how badly I craved a hot cup of coffee.  Most places weren’t open yet, so I headed straight for the temple.  

The overwhelming majority of visitors to the temple were the elderly. Undaunted, they hiked the steep steps, walked through the gardens, strolled arm in arm, followed their tour leaders, and paid their respects.  I think I was the only westerner that morning visiting the temple.  Along with the Japanese, I washed my hands and mouth at the tsukubai (for purification), threw my coin in the well at the Great Main Hall, bowed for reverence, and clapped twice to keep evil spirits away.    

At the temple entrance were stalls selling all manners of Japanese souvenirs.  Tempting as it was, I pressed on further down Green Street to the vendors selling their wares on the street.  By now it was 10:30 am and the street was really coming to life.  I was amazed at not only the number of Japanese tourists, led by their flag-on-a-stick tour leaders, but how many locals were walking around, shopping and buying.

At one open-air restaurant I watched two young Japanese men slice and dice fish with skilled precision.  As I watched the two men - one filleted the fish, the other threaded the filets with small, wooden sticks - I made a mental note to eat there for dinner on my next NRT layover.  Further along, one shop was selling nothing but sake, and giving free tastings. If I wasn’t working the flight back to New York later that day, I would have been waiting in line - I love sake!


  1. You have a great skill of putting the readers right there on the spot. Wonderful accompanying photos. I wish you all the luck. Enjoying your book. Great self-expression and style.

  2. Arnelle, thank you for your generous comments! I love writing and photography, and find myself often in the right spot, just at the right time (for instance, when the monks were proceeding out of the temple). So glad you are enjoying my book, Jet Vignettes!