New Year pilgrims hit record in recession-hit Japan

Fri Jan 9, 2009 5:21am EST
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TOKYO (Reuters) - A record number of people in Japan visited shrines and temples to pray at the start of the New Year, data showed Friday, as anxiety grows over the deepening recession.

Over 99 million people showed up for "Hatsumoude" prayers in the first three days of January, the highest since records began in 1974, the National Police Agency said.

It is customary for Japanese, many in colourful kimonos, to throng to shrines and temples in the first few days of the year to pray, buy good luck charms and draw fortune scrolls on white paper forecasting luck in business, health and love.

The top destination for prayers was the sprawling Meiji Jingu shrine in central Tokyo, with visitors topping 3 million from January 1-3.

Some came to pray for a new-born baby while the sick came to pray for health, a spokesman for the shrine said.

But the main concern for visitors, who numbered 20,000 more than last year, was probably the economy.

"It's hard to pin it down to one factor, but it seems many people prayed this year because of the recession," the spokesman said.

(Reporting by Chisa Fujioka; Editing by Hugh Lawson)