December 31 is the eve of Japan's biggest holiday, New Year's. Why not celebrate it with a beautiful anime girl?
The entire country will descend on temples to (literally) ring in the new year as bells are rung 108 times in what's called joya nokaneto, which aims to purify the souls of the 108 worldly desires. During New Year's, people also visit Shinto shrines to pray for the coming year.
Hatsumode is the customary first shrine visit of the year. As website Otaku2.com points out, the hatsumode of rural Ibaraki Prefecture is being promoted with an anime style miko, or shrine maiden. While traditionally mikos were shaman with oracle-like functions for the shrine, these days their spiritual meaning is more figurative. It's not uncommon for college students to work as mikos during the New Year's holidays to pick up some extra cash.
Japanese tourism has used anime girls in the past in hopes of promoting travel to the country's interior. Some shrines, like the Washinomiya Shrine in Saitama, are capitalizing on their anime connections. The Washinomiya Shrine is one of the oldest in the greater Tokyo region and features in the opening credits of Lucky Star.
After the show debuted in 2007, fans began visiting the shrine in droves. Those numbers increased after a popular magazine printed directions to the shrine. At first, many in the area vocally opposed the influx of fans, because they did things like left messages for their favorite Lucky Star characters. Critics didn't like what the shrine had been reduced to and that people seemed to be worshiping deities (here, anime girls) that were not the shrine's own. But Shintoism is a flexible religion. If blessing cell phones and cars is kosher, then accepting anime girls can't be too far behind.
But the fans kept coming and coming and coming. Last year, over 300,000 visitors. flocked to the shrine, which is 130,000 more than the previous year. Protest and opposition died down with the shrine and surrounding shops largely catering to the shrine's otaku ("geek") visitors. Fans apparently spent millions of yen on Lucky Star goods. And fans snap photos of the shrine's gates, not because of the shrine's long, rich history, but because it appears in an anime.
Many of these shrines in rural Ibaraki could only dream of record attendance like that. Though, is the price worth it?
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