Issue 20.6: December 2017/January 2018
Native Intelligence: O‘ahu

New Year’s Cleaning

Story by Hunter Haskins. Photos by Kent Nishimura.

Folks are lined up at 8 a.m. on New Year’s Day, almost around the block. Rock con-cert? Hangover clinic? Hardly. This is the New Year’s blessing at the Daijingu Temple of Hawaii in Nu‘uanu, purifying all comers for the New Year as early as possible. Rev. Akihiro Okada waves a stick festooned with slips of white paper over bowed attendees, reciting a chant in an archaic form of Japanese used solely by Shinto priests.

The Japanese community in Hawai‘i keeps annual traditions like this one alive. “Getting your blessing is getting rid of last year’s energy,” says Peggy Oshiro. She says that Shinto is about the energy in all things, the universal living spirit. Shrines commemorate notable people and things here on Earth, even former presidents like George Washington. In Daijingu’s case, the resident deity is the goddess of the sun and the universe, Amaterasu Omikami.

You don’t have to be a Shinto practitioner—or even a human—to enjoy a blessing. Many bring their pets, too. Festivities start at midnight on New Year’s Eve. Crowds ebb and flow, peaking early in the morning. The newly cleansed head to nearby stalls offering omamori, or amulets, to ensure the blessing lasts through the year. The popular ones are for academic success and traffic safety. And they come with instructions: Hang the charm for traffic safety from the rearview mirror. Keep the tiny gold frog in your wallet or purse so you always have money (the frog is not actual gold).

The “home security triple-pack” consists of three rectangular strips of beautiful red-and-black kanji characters on white paper. “This house is blessed to maintain peace, harmony and prosperity” reads one. The other two are for protection from burglary and fire. “Place it by the back door and the other by the kitchen,” where household fires tend to start, says freshly blessed attendee Eric Osaki, “but with tape on the back, not with a thumbtack.” They must be destroyed by temple clergy after one year, so many attendees hand over bags of last year’s omamori before getting new ones. People often donate more than a hundred dollars for amulets for friends and family, a major source of income for Daijingu, one of the oldest Shinto shrines outside of Japan.