Shrine in Osaka starts accepting New Year's visits

NHK -- Dec 02
A Shinto shrine in Osaka Prefecture, western Japan, has begun allowing visitors to mark the New Year a month early to prevent overcrowding amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Sumiyoshi Taisha opened up to such visitors on Wednesday. More than 2 million people normally visit during the first three days of January for "hatsumode," a Japanese tradition of going to a shrine or temple to welcome the New Year.

Counters at the shrine selling talismans and amulets have added typical New Year items such as sacred ropes, decorative arrows and figurines of tigers -- next year's zodiac animal -- to their displays.

The shrine's hatsumode period will continue through the end of March. Food and drink stalls, which are usually set up around the shrine, will be absent.

A woman from Kobe said she thinks early New Year's visits are a good idea because she has a small child and wants to avoid crowded places.

A priest, Oka Yasushi, said preparations were made earlier than usual so that visitors can feel safe. He said he would like people to try to stagger their visits to prevent congestion.