Following up the previous post about the first shrine and temple visits of the new year, this is a report on my visit to Kamosu Shrine.

Not that it looked like this when I visited at night. Thanks, Wiki!

Kamosu Shrine (an Izanami shrine–and one that the people of Matsue are most proud of) is the oldest shrine with Taisha-tsukuri architecture, which is particularly known for its roof design unlike that of the curved roofs of temples borrowed from Chinese style. Like most Shinto shrines, it is not just one shrine–rather, many little houses for different Kami, with a primarily one facing the entrance of the shrine. Vistors don’t enter them, but instead stand in front and peer in from windows or doors, if they happen to be open. Furthermore, the main focal point for the offerings isn’t even the true shrine itself. Instead, the main shrine (the honden) is behind this room and elevated. Kamosu’s honden is a National Treasure.

One of the key points about Taisha-tsukuri shrines is that based on the angle of the ends of the crossed sections on top, you can tell whether the diety being honored is male or female. That doesn’t make much sense in words, so take a look at a couple of the smaller shrines within Kamosu:

Click to follow to photo source and more photos of Kamosu Shrine (Japanese)

After watching the end of Kouhaku Uta Gassen–the biggest musical event of the year, over 4 hours of popular performers in a men-versus-women singing competition–and bringing in the new year with soba noodles and watching the ringing of the joyonokane on TV (a Buddhist ritual to cleanse humanity of the 108 sins and temptations), we set out at around 12:30am on January 1st to do our visit. It was like shrine visits any other time of the year–rinsing your hands before entering, tossing money before the kami, then praying in the bow-twice-clap-twice-wishful-thinking-bow-again style, and repeating the process at any of the smaller kami houses throughout the shrine.

Here's a little of my pocket money. Now can I get rich this year, please?

Also like any other time of the year, you can buy o-mamori (good luck charms and talismans) and draw omikuji fortunes, but the ones being sold at New Years are new, and many people return the previous year’s good luck charms so they can be burned.

Time to pick out this year's omamori...

Nevertheless, heavy emphasis is placed on many firsts of the year, and the visit felt special. It helped that the weather created a certain mood–it was a windless night with slowly falling snow, the moonlight was hazy, and the features of the shrine seemed to glow under a light layer of snow. Unlike larger shrines around Japan that were packed with people even at midnight, Kamosu was nearly silent. Even the miko (shrine maidens) offering New Years amazake (sweet rice wine) moved silently with sweet smiles, and spoke in soft voices like whispers.

Would you care for some sake and brown rice?

Oh, but this was different. Brown rice was being offered with the sake? We asked the miko what the significance of this was, and their pleasant atmosphere seemed to shatter into confusion. These miko probably had no idea why they were serving rice–after all, contrary to what popular culture might lead one to believe about the fine upbringing of holy maidens, these girls were most likely high schoolers who took on a part time job for the New Year season.

After our brief visit, we took a drive over to the Tamazukuri Onsen area to take a 1am visit to the outdoor ashiyu (hot spring foot bath) as the snowfall gotten thicker. We stayed under a covered roof for this visit, but it’ll be nice to go back when the weather is warmer to use the ashiyu in the stream! This was my first time at trying out the waters at Tamatsukuri, which are said to have some of the best minerals for your skin in all of Japan (on that note, according to POLA research done last year, Shimane is the best prefecture in Japan for beautiful skin!).

Our local hot springs--highly recommended!

Today is my first day back at work, but the season of firsts will still go on until about January 15th or so. I still have time to write another entry about my other firsts of the year and how else I celebrated Japan’s most important holiday of the year!

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