Japan from the inside out

Dazaifu elvettes getting ready for New Year’s Day

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, November 30, 2008

AS YEAREND APPROACHES, many people begin to look forward to the Christmas season. For most Japanese, however, Christmas is still just the entrée for the main holiday course: the three-day New Year’s holiday.

The story of Santa’s elves beavering away at the North Pole making toys for good little boys and girls is a pleasant fiction, but in Japan, the miko, or shrine maidens, (similar to altar boys) actually do take their places at the workbench in red and white costumes to make New Year’s gifts. They’re also a lot more pleasant to watch than any imaginary elf.

The miko at the Dazaifu Tenman-gu, a Shinto shrine in Dazaifu, Fukuoka, got down to work this week. A Fukuoka City television station filed a report that I can’t upload, but you can watch it while it lasts here. A quick translation of the voice-over appears below.


With just one month left until New Year’s, the preparations have begun at Dazaifu Tenman-gu to make good luck talismans for the parishioners who will make their first visit to the shrine on New Year’s Day.

The miko clad in hibakama gathered at the large hall in the shrine at 9:30 a.m. and began putting the finishing touches to the new year talismans. Working by hand, the miko attached small ema with pictures of an ox (2009 is the year of the ox). They also painted dolls made to look like oxen that were created by Hakata Ningyo (doll) maker Nakamura Shinkyo.

There are 12 types of talismans in all, starting with the good fortune arrows that come in three varieties, from “Extra Large” to “Small”.

The centerpiece this year is the new fukumusubi, patterned after the round chi-no-wa (a ring made using a plant in the eulalia family). It was created with the wish that those who possess one will meet someone especially nice from the opposite sex this year and form a strong bond.

Roughly 2.02 million people visited the Dazaifu Tenman-gu during the three-day New Year’s period this year, more than visited any other shrine in Fukuoka Prefecture. They also expect two million visitors during the same period next year.

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