Among all the pictures my husband took on New Year's day, these are the ones I'm least qualified to speak about because they involve Japanese religious rituals with which I'm relatively unfamiliar. The truth is that the reason I'm unfamiliar with them is that the vast majority of my students don't understand them either. Those who visit shrines on New Year's eve or New Year's day go through the motions but know very little about the underlying meaning.
The extent to which I know about them is largely related to what I learned during my serious preoccupation with sumo. A lot of shinto purification rituals are a part of sumo so I can tie what the wrestlers did before entering the ring and how they dressed with some of the scenes at the shrine.
The picture above is an area which eventually leads into a shrine but isn't an entry area itself. This point represents where a back of a long line to actually reach the shrine ends.
This is a combinations of photos of sections of the line. If you click on it and look at the bigger view, you get a better idea of how it snaked around a block. The line was about 150-200 people deep around 3:30 pm. The first picture is by the crosswalk shown in the first picture.
The line eventually leads to this point of general entry into the area of celebration. You may notice that there are crossing guards at both ends of the line helping out.
This is the ultimate destination of those in the line. People step up to it, clap their hands, pray and throw money into the white box that they are standing in front of.
This second view shows that the box is very large and hollow. My students do tell me about this process as some of them do it. They say they generally pray for the usual things like good health, prosperity and well-being. It's not a particularly deep or religious experience and most of them do it as a custom more than out of a sincere feeling that it will affect the outcome of the coming year. I've never actually met a deeply spiritual Japanese person who isn't a member of a Christianity-based religion. That doesn't mean they aren't out there but I don't think there are many of them.
This is a little area where people can do a purification ritual . My husband said the line for this area was relatively short compared to the area where prayers were made and contributions tossed into the box.
This is a closer look at the water and the cups. My husband said he did not see what people actually did but this type of long-handled cup is familiar to me from watching sumo. Sumo wrestlers drink from such cups (and spit out the water) before entering the ring. They also toss salt into the ring. I don't know if people drink water in this area near the shrine or if they wash with it but, if it involves drinking, it may explain the short lines. They may not feel entirely comfortable with sharing the cups with strangers.
The little strips of paper attached to this frame are tied there by the visitors. People write their wishes for the coming year on them. I've seen these types of strips hung in a wide variety of areas including subway stations. There are little year of the boar placards hanging around the top.
This is a close-up of one of the placards. You can buy them for 500 yen (about $4.50) or so from vendors near the shrine. My husband bought me one as a souvenir and its hanging next to my computer desk now. Before he told me about buying one, I mentioned that I thought they were nice and I'd have purchased one had I been there. I guess he knows me pretty well. ;-)
We are uncertain about what this area is for but the sign mentions a specific date (November 22, 1990) and the royal family. The altar design reminds me of the small altars in Japanese homes where people pray to their ancestors but I doubt this is related to the internment of royalty. However, I could be wrong.
These are sacred arrows or "hamaya" which are good luck charms. They are supposed to ward off demons because of their ability to slay evil creatures. The price on these items in Japanese is 1,000 or 2,000 yen (about $9-$19). I'm not sure what the rakes are all about but the character says "hand".
This is a collection of tiny little bells shaped in the figures of the Chinese zodiac. Each is 500 yen or about $4.00. They are about an inch and a half long and an inch high. My husband bought me the tiger one as a souvenir. They're incredibly adorable and I'd have had to resist buying one of each had I been there. They're so rounded and stylized that it's a little hard to make out what each one is without looking up the animals represented in the zodiac. Click on the picture to see the large version and try and guess.
This is what becomes of last year's little souvenirs and good luck charms. It's not a pretty sight, is it? All the lovely items you buy become outdated and part of a large pile of trash.
The trash is put to "good use" though because it's used to keep fires burning to keep people warm. I'm guessing there is a spiritual reason why these items should be burned or most people wouldn't bother carrying them back to the shrine and would just toss them (because it'd be a lot easier). I think the trash heap is so large because more people come at night when there are fireworks and there's a greater sense of anticipation as the clock ticks down and they have more than can reasonably be burned over night. The backlog is likely saved to burn during the less-heavily trafficked daytime visits.
What's a festival without food? There were several food vendors there including this takoyaki (octopus dumplings) stand. The fellow on the right was so tuckered out by all the holiday activity that he went to sleep on the spot. I always marvel that so many Japanese people seem able to sleep in uncomfortable situations and places.
Here's a close-up of the takoyaki-making process. It's not really a pretty sight. The preparation area looks none too clean but I guess these people have probably been going non-stop since last night and a mess was bound to happen. Maybe the napping fellow is in charge of the clean-up.
What Japanese New Year's festivities are complete without crepes? That wonderful, traditional Japanese, er...well, perhaps not everything is about tradition. This fellow uses limited space to his advantage and both stores his stock of sauces and fillings and advertises the varieties available. The oddest item on the table is the peanut butter. Peanut butter and crepes sounds like an unfortunate clash of French and American culture.
This is the okonomiyaki table. This is one of those dishes which is hard to explain because it includes a lot of variations by region and to the taste of the consumer. It's more or less a savory cross between an omelet and a pancake with very little flour and a large amount of egg as the base then a wide variety of other crap thrown on top. I had this once when I first came to Japan and the sauce and fish components put me off. Every Japanese person I've ever asked about this dish is crazy about it.
Finally, we have a little boy playing a badminton-style game with his mother in the area. I'm not sure what this game is but my husband said several other kids were also playing it with what looked like a shuttlecock.
My overall impression after reading my brother-in-law's coverage of night celebrations and seeing my husband's pictures of day celebrations is that the day-time events and shops that remain open seem more kid-oriented (or family-oriented) in general and that you'll find people with families out and about on New Year's day whereas you'll see mostly adults late at night. This makes sense since it's probably harder for kids to stay up late (even if they would enjoy the fireworks) and it's colder in the evenings.