"Hatsumoude" is where folks flock to a shrine to wish for good luck and a prosperous new year. Famous shrines like Meiji Jingu in Harajuku are jam packed full of folks to make that wish and enjoy the company of others.
Meiji Jingu shrine is located in a huge park called Yoyogi. Its been standing since 1920 (Taisho 9) and has been one of the most popular shrines for Hatsumoude. When you first arrive at the entrance you will see a sea of people who are lining up to make their prayers at the main building in the shrine grounds. Be prepared to stand in line for at least 30 mins - 1 hour.
To get to Meiji Jingu, get off at Harajuku station and follow the signs or just ask anybody.
This board is found on the way to the main gate of the shrine. If your date of birth appears on it then it means that you are going to have a bad year. Before worrying and contemplating staying indoors for the next 365 days, you can buy charms and amulets which will protect you throughout the year from the shrine shop.
Most shrines have a well of water which is used to purify oneself - wash your hands and take a sip. But don't attempt to purify by removing all your clothes off and taking a dip in the water - you will either freeze to death or get arrested or both. Not sure if police actually arrest dead people though.
If you have a particular wish you would like the heavens to attend to, you can write it on a piece of wood called Ema like this and hang it on one of these fences. You can go ahead and read other peoples placards and will mostly see "........so please help me pass my exams", "my boss is a right........so help me find another job", "I stole a.......so please forgive me."
You can buy a fortune written on a rolled up piece of paper. It may say something like "you shall be blessed with good fortune" or "you will be eaten by a giant snake and slowly digested over a thousand years" in which case you should quickly roll it up and tie it to this fence so that it doesn't come true.
And after a morning/afternoon full of crowds, nothing beats coming back home to some peace and quiet.
This post was actually posted on 2006-01-04 20:59 and this is what my office used to look like back then. Of late I've been back up working on the 3rd floor to enjoy the golden brown late afternoons.
Before I revived this post however, I had to go through rewriting most of the text as it was unbelievably sarcastic - felt like slapping myself as I wrote it!