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Hatsu Hustle

Seasonal Rhythm

Japan In-depth

After consuming cross-the-year noodles and listening to the temple bell tolling 108 times to cleanse the mortal soul of its earthly desires, Japan is ready for that special fresh start: hatsu hinode, the first sunrise of the new year. Then it's off to a local shrine or temple for the first prayer of the new year: hatsu mode. At the end of a tiring day one, it's time to enjoy hatsu yume, the first dream of the new year.

As you can see, "hatsu" is an important idea in Japan at this time of the year. It simply means "first." And you can share the hatsu fun.

Beaches and high vantage points all over Japan attract people wishing to glimpse that first sunrise. Especially on the Pacific Ocean side of Japan, much of which is in a snow shadow, New Year's dawn is often bright and beautiful.

Almost any major shrine or temple is worth visiting during the first few days of the year. Go ahead and join the throng as they pray for health and happiness. Ask at your hotel for the best place to visit locally - and take your camera, as kimonos and cheerful crowds add to Japan's photogenic charm at this time of year.

For an unusual shopping experience, try the hatsu-uri (first sale) events at many department stores from as early as Jan. 2. The highlights include fukubukuro, "lucky bags" full of interesting items at a bargain price.

Sports enthusiasts may already have been for their first ski of the year (hatsu suberi) by the time the first Grand Sumo tournament (hatsu basho) rolls around in mid-January. For more information, visit the Japan Sumo Association

Hmm. The mention of winter and sumo brings to mind a cold-weather delicacy.... Read on!