On January 2nd, 2004, I followed the Japanese custom of hatsumode, the first visit to a Shinto shrine in the New Year. At the entrance to the shrine is the torii or gate.
There is another gate one goes through before entering the courtyard of the shrine. On January 2nd it was not as crowded as it was New Year's Eve or January 1st. According to a cultural calendar by jun-gifts.com, it is estimated that a total of over 80 million people, or two-thirds of the population, visit a shrine at New Year's.
People gather in front of the shrine to pray. Originally the prayers were for a rich harvest, as well as the safety and health of one's family.
Before praying, people toss a coin for the gods into the saisenbako or wooden collection box, clap their hands twice (some say to attract the attention of the gods), and bow to the gods. At some shrines one also rings a bell hanging from a rope in front of the collection box. There are so many visitors at the Hokkaido Shrine at New Years that they have a huge canvas to collect the coins, which can get covered with snow as you see here.
For many young women, a visit to the shrine is one of the few opportunities they have to wear the nagasode or formal long-sleeved kimono. Other occasions for wearing the kimono include Coming-of-Age Day and weddings.