I have to preface this post with my extreme gratitude for my friend Shintaro’s family, who hosted me for the new year oshōgatsu お正月 and took me on their hatsumōde 初詣. I can’t thank them enough for their hospitality.
Hatsumōde is the practice of going to a shrine or temple on the first few days of the year. For Shintaro’s family’s hatsumōde, we went to Nara.
Kyoto and Nara are both very historical cities. Kyoto is the star of the two and takes all the credit, but Nara was capital of Japan before Kyoto was.
One thing you might have heard about Nara is that there are deer (shika 鹿) EVERYWHERE. Yes, deer in Nara are sacred and are treated very well.
A little too well, actually. Many of the deer we saw were aggressive if you had anything that looked or smelled like food. The males would headbutt you if you weren’t giving up the stuff.
The main attraction in Nara (other than deer to your hands) is the Tōdai-ji (東大寺, east huge temple). It is absolutely ridiculously huge.
The original temple burned down in a fire. This new temple is actually 30% smaller than the original one.
Why is it so big? Because it’s home to the biggest Buddha in the world.
This picture doesn’t really convey how big this guy really is - for instance his face is more than 17 feet tall. A small adult could fit through one of the Buddha’s nostrils. In fact, a small adult probably has fit through one of the Buddha’s nostrils.
There’s a hole cut horizontally through one of the pillars in the temple about 2 feet in diameter, made to be the exact size of the Buddha’s nostril. People line up to try to fit through the hole. Apparently it is good luck if you can fit. I can’t see how nose diving, spiritual or otherwise, can bring you good fortune.
Our real hatsumoude took place at Kasuga-taisha 春日大社, a shrine nearby. We washed our hands with sacred water and toured the grounds.
While in the temple, each of us picked up an omikuji - a slip of paper with your fortune for the year you pick by selecting a random numbered stick. Mine said that I shouldn’t travel and that I should be careful of my children. (Is this fortune trying to tell me I have children I don’t know about?)
After you’ve been sufficiently amused (or mortified) by your Japanese horoscope, you tie it up to a string with everyone else’s.