Today (and through tomorrow) was the Hatsumoude, “first Shrine visit of the year,” at the Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America. While it would have been cool and fun to have had the first ceremony at the Shrine after midnight, as I have on several occasions over the past few years (and it is now just over five years that I’ve been attending events at the Shrine), due to schedules and the wishes of those who got me there, we went this morning and had the first one offered today at 10:30 AM.
(Note: no, that’s not the particular festival I was at, but I’m sure that’s how it looked there as the day went on! It’s the most crowded time of the year, and they have ceremonies every 45 minutes or hour to accommodate everyone over these first few days.)
We got there a bit earlier than we would usually, to make sure we were able to sign up for the first ceremony of the daylight hours today. I also had some things that needed doing: ema needed to be procured, not only for my makeshift home shrine, but also to entreat Sarutahiko-no-Okami and Inari-Okami for some favors. I inscribed by ema, and hung the Sarutahiko-no-Okami one at the emaden, but then went to the Inari shrine and hung that one out there on a tree near to the shrine, just as someone else had done over the course of 2012 (though theirs was a plaque in memory of someone). I’m not sure if those ones will be removed, purified, and burned this year (or any future year?) or not…but, if my prayer’s intention comes true, I’ll make sure that something is done with it. I also made sure to visit and do the proper procedure at the Shofuku-no-tama, the large marble sphere that they’ve had at the Shrine for a year or two, which is supposed to give certain blessings from Sarutahiko-no-Okami. I’ve given it the accurate but perhaps somewhat unflattering (though, in many ways, entirely appropriate) name of “Sarutahiko-no-Okami’s big stone ball” before now, but now that I know the proper name of it, I’ll try and remember it better for the future! ;)
While this is a big community event, and the Japanese and Japanese Americans far outnumber the non-Japanese attendees at this time of year, the Shinto ritual on the day is one of the most basic and frill-free ones there is. Nonetheless, things always happen to make each event memorable. This year, due to the large number of small children that are often brought along, preverbal or recently verbal children’s antics made it rather funny. The loud drum sounding at the beginning of the ceremony, with some long pauses between the drum beats, was met with a young child yelling “BONG!” after the first strike, and then when the second one happened, the child again said “BONG!” but with more insistence and perplexity in voice. I’m sure that child’s parents quieted them down immediately afterwards, since many more drum beats were going to follow; and then, later, when another drum part of the ceremony happened in much the same way, we got another “BONG!” from this child out of the deal. ;)
Something I noticed as I was going around the Shrine grounds from the very moment we stepped into them, though, is all of the “little things” that differ from visit to visit. Because Hatsumoude is a very big and important festival and time of year, they are really assiduous about making sure everything looks new, shiny, clean, and perfect. They got new ladles for the temizu station, for example, that had probably only been used for the ceremony at midnight previous to ourselves this morning. Other small things inside and outside the Shrine and its various fabrics were also different, new, or more visible. Likewise, nature itself at the Shrine site was different: a small, thin, but moss-covered tree now bends over the path to the Inari shrine that had not before, for example. That’s how things work in nature, certainly: overall similarity and continuity, but little differences. I think that Shinto practitioners, as well as Buddhists and Taoists, would probably agree that was a good lesson to take from this particular Shrine visit.
I wish everyone at Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America–the priest, his wife, the Shrine assistants, and all of the volunteers who help at Hatsumoude–a very good New Year, with peace and prosperity for all, and I hope that their efforts over these two days are rewarding and enjoyable! Thank you so much for all of your hard work!
And, I wish the same for everyone else reading this, too!