hatsumode on the beach

One of my favorite rituals at the beginning of the new year is to visit a local shrine, a practice known as hatsumode in Japan. Shrines in Japan are places of quiet beauty where nature’s sacredness is honored and the sanctity of life itself is celebrated. Often steeped in many hundreds of years of history, they are as rooted as the ancient trees on the shrine grounds themselves, encircled with shimenawa. In the air, light dances and shadows sing, softly. 

With no way to any shrine at the beginning of this new year, I went instead, to the beach. On the ocean’s shore, there are no shimenawa nor torii to announce sacred spaces; there are no basins for ritual cleansing nor altars to thank kami and pray for the new year nor omikuji and omamori to buy. Indeed, there is nothing on the beach, of human-made design. But sacredness and sanctity are present—in abundance.  I find that in the absence of shrines nonetheless, my soul dances and my heart sings, still.

Could I, in an aching heartbeat I would, fly to a shrine in Japan for my new year’s hatsumode… pour cool water over my hands, caress the wrinkled skin of those trees, carefully perform the correct way of praying at the altar, fold my omikuji with childlike delight, and bow deeply before it all. But I cannot. 

Rather, I dive into this ocean. And immersed wholly in its freezing water, my body surprisingly warms and suddenly it feels good simply, to be alive. Like the waves, I breathe deeply. And gasp. We are beautiful—an ocean wild and free. Like the waves we are—a ceaseless love. We are the shrine. We dance and we sing.