If you manage to reach the actual shrine, you throw some money in a basket, pull a rope connected to some bells (causing noise so the Gods know to listen to you), and pray for something (like passing the entrance exam to your favorite university). You also usually buy a form of written prediction of how your new year will turn out. You get things like "very lucky" or "not so lucky", and details about love life, money, etc. If you get some bad prediction, you can tie it to a tree in the shrine to have the bad effects canceled.
There are usually also tents selling alcohol, hot dogs, and general festival food. Having this kind of commerce on the shrine or temple grounds is very common in Japan, but was a bit strange to me at first. But the religions here seem fairly relaxed, and many shrines and temples put up Christmas decorations on the Buddhas or shrines and other things like that.
|My brother and his girlfriend eating crepes outside the temple. The tents in the background is for getting people to donate blood.|
|People ahead of me in the line to the shrine. And the line turns around the corned and goes on for much longer.|
This year I went to Meiji Jingu, which is possibly the most heavily visited shrine in Japan. I went there on January 3 in the hope that most people would have already done their hatsumode by now, so the line would not be that long. Compared to peak times, it was not long, but it still would take more than an hour of standing in line, so I once again gave up. I went to a nearby store selling funny t-shirts instead. As I understand, Meiji Jingu gets more than 3 million visitors during the first three days of the year. If you go there during the summer when nothing special is going on, there are around 10 other people or so.