The beginning of the year here is also marked by visits to local (or distant) shrines to pray for a prosperous and healthy new year. Also, because Rie is back in Kumamoto so infrequently we also paid a visit to a simple shrine that holds the ashes of some of her relatives.
Although I had expected something more akin to a stone alter like you might find in a Japanese graveyard, the site we visited was instead and smallish room filled with maybe a hundred or so lockers and dominated by a single, simple shrine near the back of the room.
We opened their locker to find a small butsudan, a Buddhist alter before which you pray for your ancestors. After praying at the main alter we approached the smaller one in turn. First we took a stick of incense and lit, then stood it up in a bowl of ashes near the front of the alter. Next to that is a small, ornate brass bowl which you strike lightly with a short piece of rounded, lacquered wood. Then you pray briefly, bow, and step back.
Over as quickly as it had begun, we were out the door and on our way to the next place. This time we drove for two hours (further) into the country to visit a shrine called 蛇石神社 and devoted to the spirit of a mythical white snake. Praying at this shrine is supposed to bring prosperity in business, and is visited each year by the Ogatas.
I picked up an お守り (protective charm) and a お札 for a prosperous year for the company, then we all made the rounds, praying at each of the shrines at the temple and also peeking in on the two albino snakes that lay curled in a glass cage installed on a small rise behind the shrine.
Afterwards we drove back to the city and visited another Shinto shrine, praying at the many alters in the same pre-defined fashion: two bows, shake the hanging rope to rattle a simple round bell affixed to the top, clap twice, pray, bow again. We also bought お御籤 (o-mikuji), little slips of paper that tell your prospects and fortune for the coming year. Mine, sadly, was only so-so, so I decided not to give it too much stock.
Throughout the day we all took turns holding Mia and worrying all the while that it was too cold for her to be outside like this and hurrying to get back to the warmth of the car. O-basan (Grandma) was no different, of course, except that when her came turn to hold Mia she was in no rush to go anywhere…