CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Akihiro Okada starts a Shubatsu purification ritual by pounding on a taiko drum.
Some fresh luck
A Buddhist event celebrates the new year with specially blessed amulets
At the stroke of midnight New Year's Eve, Shinto priest Akihiro Okada of the Daijingu Temple of Hawaii will beat a fast, hard tempo on a big taiko drum to call hundreds to line up for a purification and blessing ritual that he has performed for more than 20 years.
» The Daijingu Temple of Hawaii, at 61 Puiwa Road in Nuuanu, will hold purification ceremonies at 10 and 11 p.m. New Year's Eve for those who do not want to wait in line for the crowded midnight-to-3 a.m. blessing.
The temple will be open the entire night and the following New Year's Day.
At 7 a.m. Tuesday the first official blessing of 2008 will be conducted by head priest Akihiro Okada.
» Another major Shinto temple in downtown Honolulu, the Izumo Taishakyo Mission of Hawaii, will hold blessings from midnight New Year's Eve to 5 p.m. Tuesday. The Izumo Mission, at 215 N. Kukui St., will also hold blessings Wednesday and Thursday from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Amulets and talismans ("ofuda") will be available for a nominal donation.
By 3 a.m. New Year's Day, about 2,000 people will have come to the Nuuanu temple to get a clean slate at the start of the new year. As the line slowly makes its way to the altar, people give an offering, say a short prayer and receive a blessing symbolized by Okada waving the "oonusa" (a wand made of white paper strips) over them.
And as part of the custom, they will buy amulets, or "omamori," for good luck, a practice of Shintoism, the indigenous religion of Japan. An amulet is not merely a rabbit's foot to followers of the faith. Without belief in what it symbolizes, it is nothing more than an artistic assortment of objects made of silk fabrics, cords, wooden plaques, tassels, bells or parchment.
"If you believe in it, of course it works," he said, but "in itself it is not powerful; it is just a thing, an ornament."
Although the amulets are all blessed by a priest before they are distributed, going through the blessing and purification ritual doubles the whammy. Coming to the shrine is also part of their family heritage, he said.
Longtime member Florence Imai is firm in her belief that the amulets bring good luck, and has helped assemble them from materials imported from Japan for more than 20 years. She has been coming to the temple "from childhood with my parents on New Year's Day," perhaps as a way of celebrating, too: "New Year's is my birthday." (She will turn 86 Tuesday.)
People even line up in the rain to get the "oharaisama" (main blessing) of the new year, along with the amulets, she said.
"Many, many, many people have said, 'Oh, this brought me good luck.' I've heard lots of stories.Many things happened that you wouldn't have believed it would happen to you," Imai added.
Teenagers just getting their driver's license usually receive from their parents the "traffic omamori" for safety or the prevention of accidents, she said. Even if an accident happens, "they are still alive, or things didn't happen as bad as they could have," Imai said.
Before purchasing new amulets, Okada said old ones should be brought to the shrine for burning at a later time -- the "otakiage" -- because each one is imbued with "a personal spirit."
Shintos call their main spirit Kami and pay homage with ritualistic chants, deep bows and a series of hand claps. Okada performs more elaborate private blessing ceremonies on request, which are concluded with the believer sharing a sip of sake, poured from a teapot, with Kami.
"It's like drinking with the spirit, like a party. Kami likes to have a joyful feeling," Okada said.
The most popular amulets, averaging $3 to $8, are for traffic safety ("kotsuanden"), which come with a small suction cup for windshields; personal ("hadamimamori") good health and fortune; and for "yakudoshi," or certain bad-luck ages, which vary for men and women, he said.
According to Reyn Tsuru, priest of Shingon Shu Hawaii, an independent Buddhist temple on Sheridan Street that also sells amulets, a popular amulet is the "yakuyoke" for general good luck, which can be given a friend who seems surrounded by bad fortune.
But most Buddhists also attend a Shinto shrine for the purification blessing, said Tsuru, who plans to go himself. Shintoism dates back to 200 B.C. and emphasizes harmony with nature and the presence of gods in all living things, he said.
CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
The priest at Daijingu Temple in Nuuanu, Akihiro Okada, claps his hands in front of an altar before raising a curtain revealing an inner shrine, during a Shubatsu purification ritual.