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Yuka Tatetsu, one of the six Mikos, or shrine attendants, at Futenma Shrine in Ginowan near Camp Foster, waits to greet visitors during the hectic New Year's week. Okinawa police warn people to be careful on the highways during the week, when traffic becomes congested with thousands visiting area shrines.
Yuka Tatetsu, one of the six Mikos, or shrine attendants, at Futenma Shrine in Ginowan near Camp Foster, waits to greet visitors during the hectic New Year's week. Okinawa police warn people to be careful on the highways during the week, when traffic becomes congested with thousands visiting area shrines. (Chiyomi Sumida / S&S)
Yuka Tatetsu, one of the six Mikos, or shrine attendants, at Futenma Shrine in Ginowan near Camp Foster, waits to greet visitors during the hectic New Year's week. Okinawa police warn people to be careful on the highways during the week, when traffic becomes congested with thousands visiting area shrines.
Yuka Tatetsu, one of the six Mikos, or shrine attendants, at Futenma Shrine in Ginowan near Camp Foster, waits to greet visitors during the hectic New Year's week. Okinawa police warn people to be careful on the highways during the week, when traffic becomes congested with thousands visiting area shrines. (Chiyomi Sumida / S&S)
The Futenma Shrine in Ginowan, near Camp Foster, is decorated with a giant ema, a Shinto plaque, picturing a rat pushing a taiko drum. The year 2008 is year of the Rat under the Chinese zodiac.
The Futenma Shrine in Ginowan, near Camp Foster, is decorated with a giant ema, a Shinto plaque, picturing a rat pushing a taiko drum. The year 2008 is year of the Rat under the Chinese zodiac. (Chiyomi Sumida / S&S)
Tatetsu makes one last check of sample charms and talismans displayed at the shrine office. Thousands of good luck charms are sold during the New Year Festival at the shrine.
Tatetsu makes one last check of sample charms and talismans displayed at the shrine office. Thousands of good luck charms are sold during the New Year Festival at the shrine. (Chiyomi Sumida / S&S)

GINOWAN, Okinawa — Here’s a tip for a happy New Year’s: Stay off the roads near Shinto shrines and tourist spots.

Okinawa police say New Year’s week is the worst time of the year for traffic on the island’s highways.

Oshogatsu, the New Year, is the most important celebration of the year in Japan, a festive time of bonenkai (year-forgetting parties) and visits to shrines to thank the kami (Shinto gods), make New Year’s resolutions and ask for good fortune in the coming year.

In Shinto tradition, Japanese ask the kami for worldly things, which could range from grand themes like wishing for world peace — or at least more peaceful homes — to more mundane wishes, such as getting a good score on the next school test or making that big sale.

Okinawa police estimate the turnout at island shrines during the Jan. 1-3 holidays to be about 665,000.

An additional 83,000 are expected to visit tourist spots such as Expo Park in Nago and Shuri Castle in Naha.

And most of them will be traveling in cars.

In central Okinawa, where most U.S. troops and their families live, Futenma Shrine — off Highway 330 in Ginowan, near Camp Butler and Fort Buckner — expects about 120,000 people, according to a police spokesman.

The most popular shrine on Okinawa is Gokoku Shrine in Naha, which attracts about 240,000 people, followed by Naritasan Shrine in Nakagusuku and the Naminoue Shrine in Naha.

Stars and Stripes reporter Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this report.

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