It has been years since I had been to Meiji Jingu Shrine for the New Year. I was inspired to write a quick post about what it is like because Rurousha wrote a quick post about the busiest temples and shrines in Japan during the New Year festivities. I have, fortunately or unfortunately, been able to go to Meiji Jingu 3 times for the New Year festivities. It is a crazy place to be sure and they have to do a lot to prepare for the over 3 million visitors who will visit in the first 2 weeks of the year.
The first thing to learn is that the main station, Harajuku, is actually modified for the New Year. If you have ever been on the outer tracks (heading north), you will notice there is a platform on the opposite side of the tracks. For most of the year people wonder why such a platform exists when the main platform is in between the Yamanote Line itself. This platform is only used during the New Year as there are so many people it would be too dangerous to have both directions using the same platform. Thankfully they bring portable Suica card readers and they have a lot of people on hand to help you out if you need money. The regular entrance is for the inner line, heading south.
As you head into Meiji Jingu, you need to realize that you may not get to the shrine smoothly. There are several entrances and the main one is usually the longest one. At night they have some fires manned by kids. When I was there last, the kids looked to be part of the boy scouts or something similar. The fires were nice and helped keep you warm, as well as light the way to the shrine. Once you pass this section, you are herded, yes herded, into a group. The police section off a couple hundred visitors at a time and the line progresses slowly and smoothly. They run a tape along the front and back of each section and have a single officer holding a number at the front. This is to make sure enough people enter the shrine at the same time and the crowd doesn’t get too big either.
Once you get to the shrine, you are allowed to move towards the middle of the main courtyard. This is where you meet a row of police officers in full riot gear. This is not really to attack you; rather to protect themselves from being hit by the hundreds of thousands of coins. You are in a group that is roughly 10 to 20 people deep and everyone is throwing coins as far as possible so that they can get their coins as close to the shrine as possible. There are a few unique things about this shrine that can prove “lucky”. You aren’t allowed to throw coins directly at the police standing at the front but you can “accidentally” hit them. You will probably be arrested if you show intent to hit them but people in the back regularly hit them on the top of the head. Second, you might get hit with a coin, so bring a hooded jacket and hope someone tosses a 500 yen coin in your hood. I heard it is considered lucky to get money in your hood at Meiji Jingu.
Once you finish, you head out the side and buy all of your lucky charms for the year. Yes, you have to line up with everyone else. There are a few tricks to jumping the line if you know what to do. The second busiest entrance is probably the Yoyogi Station entrance. If you get off at Yoyogi Station instead and attack Meiji Jingu from the north, you’ll probably jump a few hundred people, unless the line is not very long. The other mode of attack is to approach from the west. It is the least used entrance as it is on the Odakyu line and only a single station away from Shinjuku so very few people go there. I would guess only locals go that way. You may even be able to jump more than a few thousand if you can directly enter the shrine from that side rather than the main entrance. The last tip is to bundle up. It is cold and if you are in a big herd, you won’t be moving too fast. Wear many layers and expect to still feel cold.