One of the traditional Japanese activities during the New Years holiday is called hatsumode, which is the first visit to a Shinto shrine or Buddhist temple.
People will typically visit a shrine or temple from midnight New Years day until January 7. The pictures in this blog post were taken at Hie Shrine in Akasaka, Tokyo on January 2nd.
Below, the main stone torii gate of the Hie Shrine is very large and impressive, a distinct contrast to the modern, high-rise buildings in the area.
Near the rear of the shrine, you will find a red torii gate with a series of smaller torii gates enclosing a steep set of stairs.
Just like most shrines, there was a long queue to get inside the shrine. The next series of pictures show people patiently waiting their turn. The end of the line (as indicated by the sign carried by the policeman) is shown in the first picture.
Finally, pull the chord to ring the bell and offer a solemn prayer for the new year.
New omamori (charms or amulets) are bought, and the old ones are returned to the shrine so they can be burned. In the Hie Shrine, a hamaya, or wooden arrow, was sold as the omamori.
After buying the omamori, you can give it to one of the shrine maidens for a blessing.
You can also buy ema boards, small wooden plaques on which Shinto worshippers can write their prayers or wishes.
There are good selection, and since 2012 is the Year of the Dragon, many ema have a dragon.
Another tradition is omikuji, which are random fortunes written on strips of paper. When the prediction is bad, it is customary to fold up the strip of paper and attach it to a pine tree or a wall of metal wires alongside other bad fortunes in the temple or shrine grounds.
Just like any typical Japanese festival, you will find stalls selling a variety of food and drinks.