The only thing thicker than the crowds is the irony.

The New Year is a major holiday in Japan. There’s plenty of traditional (and dangerous) food to eat, plus the annual hatsumode — visiting a shrine to wish for health, happiness, and good fortune in the next year.

Of course this year, with the coronavirus steadily getting worse in Japan, going to a shrine with hundreds of others is probably not the best idea.

Hatsumode doesn’t even have to happen right on New Year’s day, technically your first trip to the shrine at any point in the year counts, so maybe waiting until it’s safe to do so would be—

“[Sad News] Crowds Gather at Atsuta Shrine in Nagoya for
Hatsumode, ‘Praying for Things to Return to Normal.'”

…or that could happen. That is also a possibility.

Atsuta Shrine is one of the most popular shrines in Japan. Allegedly home to the Kusanagi no Tsurugi, a legendary sword that is one of the Three Sacred Treasures of Japan, it draws millions of visitors annually. And it looks like many of them wanted to get an early start on getting those numbers up this year.

Of course it wasn’t just in Nagoya where large crowds went to temples. There were many other places full of people ironically putting themselves and others in the very danger they were likely praying to get relief from.

“Tokyo just got more than a thousand new corona cases. Meanwhile about a seven minute walk from Akihabara, about 500 people attend hatsumode at Kanda Shrine.”

“I guess everyone’s just going to crowd together for hatsumode.”
At Minatogawa Shrine in Kobe.

“Looking at the photos from The Hokkaido Shimbun, the crowds look smaller than usual,
but I don’t think they should even be gathering together that much.”

Here’s how Japanese netizens reacted to seeing the crowds, while most of them were staying at home:

“I have a feeling their prayers are not going to come true.”
“If they’d just stayed home we’d have a better chance of going back to normal.”
“Are the shrine deities stronger than science?”
“Voice from above: ‘Nope.'”
“Wow, everything is back to normal. Great job everyone.”
“I mean, with schools and workplaces open, they all must think it’s okay.”

Unfortunately that’s likely correct. With people still being forced to live their lives like everything is normal, but with a mask on, then it’s only natural for them to go on hatsumode to a temple like normal, but with a mask on.

It may be hard, but let’s do our best to stay home, make our own spam and Oreo burgers, and postpone any hatsumode until it’s safe to do so.

Source: Chunichi Shimbun via Hachima Kiko
Top image: Pakutaso
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