Hatsumode is an important New Years tradition in Japan. It is the first shrine visited after New Years, and from January first through January third, because they are holidays, the Japanese will go to visit their first shrine of the new year. Although any shrine will suffice, many Japanese prefer to visit shrines that are considered to be of greater importance as their hatsumode. Naturally, since Ise Shrine is the most holy Shinto shrine in the world, it is a popular destination. The Prime Minister even makes a visit to Ise Shrine during this time. Ise Shrine is extremely crowded around this time, so it can be a nightmare for some tourists but for others it's the best time to visit.
I decided to visit Ise Shrine at this time, and for me, and it was a very memorable experience. Geku was actually not too crowded. Getting to Naiku, the main shrine, however, takes more time. Using the bus there was a 30 minute line to wait in. Once I arrived, walking around the holy grounds was not a problem. Getting to main shrine in Naiku however, took about an hour and a half. Oharaimachi is also extremely crowded during this time. Overall, I didn't really feel that the crowds were so bad. For me, it was WELL worth the wait. I think the large crowd and anticipation made it more exciting! It's certainly not for everybody, but I would highly recommend visiting Ise Shrine during this time for a truly unique and unforgettable experience!
Although you can visit any shrine without praying, many tourists want to know how to do it, especially when visiting Ise Shrine, because it is such a holy place. If you want to know how to properly pray at a Shinto shrine, here is how:
1. Toss your monetary donation into the donation area.
2. If there are bells, ring the bell. (If there are no bells, skip this step)
3. Bow two times.
4. After bowing, clap your hands twice.
5. Bow again, but only one time.
This is the proper way to pray at any Shinto shrine, not just Ise Shrine, so you can do it anytime you visit a Shinto shrine.
Many visitors come to Ise and go straight to Naiku, the inner Shrine of Ise Shrine however, for those looking to experience Ise Shrine the way it was meant to be visited, you first need to visit Geku, the outer Shrine. It's actually quite convenient, because upon exiting Ise station, you simply need to walk straight and you will arrive at Geku!
After visiting Geku, visitors should then visit Naiku. If you want to do it the correct way, you should walk. Some say it's too far, but remember, those who made the pilgrimage to Ise in the past came from all parts of Japan. Some had horses and other forms of transportation but others had to walk! Of course, if you don't want to walk, today you can take a bus to Naiku!
You don't necessarily need to do anything after visiting Naiku, but once again, if you are looking to get the most out of your visit to Ise Shrine, your final stop should be Okage Yokocho, which branches off from Oharaimachi near the inner shrine. Okage Yokocho is where the pilgrims came to rest after their long journey to Ise. The locals knew the pilgrims came from far away, so they provided them with rice and new shoes free of charge. Sadly, if you wish for rice and shoes, you will have to pay for them, but this is the proper way to visit the shrine for those who enjoy living history!