Here in Sapporo, mass of the people pay a visit to Hokkaido Jingu (shrine) during the new year holidays. Particularly on the fist day of the year, you will witness that people are jammed in line all the way from the nearby subway station up to the shrine.
This event is called “hatsumoude” in Japanese. People pay a visit to a nearby Shinto shrine or Buddhist temple during the new year days. It is intended to drive away any defilement and pray for the family’s health and prosperity.
I think it is safe to say that shrines (Shnito) or temples (Buddhism) do not matter in this occasion. I know it sounds strange for the people of different religion, however, we choose which one to visit depending on where we live rather than religious reasons, and so we do here in Sapporo.
To the foreign eyes, hatsumoude appears be a cultural event rather than religious one. That’s true. But it is also true that many of us, especially elder ones, feel very much “uncomfortable” if they miss out this occasion. Consequently, if something bad happens later in the year, they regret not having paid a visit to the shrine (or temple) in the beginning of the year.