Wish upon a Lucky Star: New Year Prayer at Washinomiya Shrine

On the 1st of January, the majority of Japanese visit their local shrine to pray for success, health, and love for the year to come. This custom is known as Hatsumode (初詣), literally meaning “first shrine visit”. In this article, I will focus on my Hatsumode experience at Washinomiya Shrine (鷲宮神社)in Saitama Prefecture. The shrine also happens to be the Seichi (“Sacred location”) of Kyoto Animation’s Lucky Star (2007)!

People queue up to pray for a year of happiness / Omar Hedvat, Gurashii

In Japan, the New Year period is a time to be spent with family. On the night of the 31st December, many visit Shrines such as Meiji Jingu (a shrine that attracts as much as 3 million people over a single New Year period!). Others spend the night eating toshi-koshi soba (年越しそば), translated as “soba noodles to pass the year.” During the New Year period, Osechi Ryouri (おせち料理) is eaten, which is comprised of a selection of foods including kuromame (black soybeans), tadakuri (dried sardine), kazunoko (herring roe), and datemaki (rolled omelette). Kagami Mochi is also traditionally consumed over the New Year period.

Kagami mochi (鏡餅) / Omar Hedvat, Gurashii

In this article, however, I will focus on the Hatsumode tradition, perhaps the most staple of all Japanese New Year’s customs. I will zoom in on my Hatsumode experience at Washinomiya Shrine (鷲宮神社) in Saitama Prefecture. The shrine also happens to be the Seichi (“sacred home”) of Kyoto Animation’s Lucky Star (2007)!

Washinomiya Shrine (鷲宮神社) was built some time between 148 B.C. and 29 B.C. While not attracting the hoards of people as Meiji Jingu (“only” around 100,000 during the New Year period), Washinomiya is an ancient and traditional shrine. Festivals such as the Saibara Kagura festival, where Japanese art and traditional dance, among other ancient performing arts, are exhibited, highlight this. While still holding this traditional element, in recent years the shrine has become equally famous for being the “sacred home” of four-panel manga Lucky Star (2004-), which was made into an anime in 2007 by world-famous animation studio, Kyoto Animation.

Entrance Gate to Washinomiya Shrine (鷲宮神社) / Omar Hedvat, Gurashii

The series revolves around the daily lives of four high school girls, and contains countless parodies and cross-references of other anime, manga, and games. Most well-known parodies include those from the Suzumiya Haruhi (2003-), and Full Metal Panic (1998-) series’. In fact, the voice actress of Lucky Star’s main character, Konata (Hirano Aya), also voiced Haruhi herself, making the gags even more humorous for the otaku viewer!

Washinomiya Shrine is featured during the opening song roll of Lucky Star. The song is called “Motteke! Se-ra-fuku” (meaning “Take it! Sailor Uniform”), and is sung by the four main characters: Konata, Miyuki, Kagami, and Tsukasa. During the video, the girls are depicted playing around the Washinomiya Shrine grounds.

Every year thousands come to pay respect to the anime. While some come to pray for their favorite character, making bizarre wishes such as “I will love you forever, Konata-chan!” Others write and draw Lucky Star-themed prayer plaques, sending messages of gratitude and good luck for the series, and for the voice actresses. Many male fans will even come to the shrine in sailor uniform, crossing-dressing as their favorite high school girl, such is their love for the anime!

Lucky Star “Ema” (Prayer Plaques) / Omar Hedvat, Gurashii

Several Lucky Star events have been held at the shrine. In December 2007, soon after the end of the televised anime, the four main voice actresses put on a show for their adoring fans. On this occasion, voice actresses of the Hiiragi twin sisters, Fukuhara Kaori and Katou Emiri, dressing up as traditional Japanese Shrine Maidens, guided visitors around the shrine. At the end of the tour, they, along with a group of fans, met up with the remaining two voice actresses, Hirano Aya and Endo Aya, who play the main character and spoof queen Konata, and the cute and clumsy Miyuki respectively.

While, at the start of the Lucky Star boom, some had complained that these “otaku pilgrimages” disrupt the traditional atmosphere of the shrine, the vast majority of fans are well-mannered and cause no commotion, thus anxieties have quelled. In fact, in recent years one could say the relationship between Washinomiya Shrine and Lucky Star has been accepted as a part of the shrine’s culture — with Lucky Star posters and banners decorating the shrine area and streets surrounding it, and Lucky Star-themed goods, food and beverages being sold at the shrine itself.

Floating Lucky Star Banner / Omar Hedvat, Gurashii

Washinomiya Shrine is not the only shrine to have an association with anime. Kanda Myoujin (神田明神), located near Akihabara, is the “sacred home” of LoveLive, which has taken Japan by storm during the past five years. The anime centers around nine high school girls who form an idol group in order to prevent their school from closing down.

Final Take

New Year culture in Japan is rich, and completing one’s Hatsumode has been a staple for the vast majority of Japanese since ancient religion was invented. The intersection of deep tradition with pop culture through Lucky Star at Washinomiya Shrine, and LoveLive at Kanda Myojin, is certainly an intriguing one; a sign of pop culture’s power in modern Japan.

Konata of the Lucky Star series / Omar Hedvat, Gurashii

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