Staggering New Year visits to shrine amid COVID-19

Some people in Hokkaido, northern Japan, made New Year visits to a local Shinto shrine a day earlier than usual in an effort to avoid congestion in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Itsukushima Shrine in the city of Kushiro typically receives about 50,000 visitors during the New Year period.

This year, the shrine is calling on people to try to stagger their visits to prevent congestion.

In response, quite a number of people were there on Thursday to offer early New Year prayers. They made donations, thanked the deity for keeping their households safe in 2020, and made wishes for 2021.

Visitors normally wash their hands using shared water dippers before they offer prayers in front of the shrine hall. This year, the shrine suspended that practice to prevent coronavirus infections.

The shrine also put bottles of alcohol hand sanitizer on a counter where people are handed lucky charms and traditional decorative arrows, which work as talismans to drive away evil.