Having covered Christmas festivities in faraway Tokyo Midtown and nearby Osaka Aquarium here at Japan.com, it’s time we switch over to the traditional for New Year’s Eve by recommending the Chionin Temple in Kyoto. Not only is Kyoto perfect for experiencing Japanese culture, the Chionin Temple is the heart of religious celebrations around New Years! The Chionin Temple is the headquarters of Jodo Buddhism, one of the largest Buddhist sects in Japan alongside Zen. Yet, despite its 800-year history and connection to the Tokugawa clan, what makes the temple a good place to visit on New Year’s Eve? Answer: Joya no Kane!
1. Witness A Unique Annual Tradition
Joya no Kane is Japanese for “New Year’s Eve Bell”, tradition where temple bells are rung 108 times on New Year’s Eve. The number represents the number of a person’s sins and earthly desires in one year. By striking the bells 108 times, participants are cleansed of sin and desire, allowing them to start the New Year with a clean slate. And now, why go to Chionin Temple and not one of the other options in Kyoto?
2. Participate in the Practice at its Largest Reiteration
As the saying goes, bigger is always better. The bell in the Chionin Temple is the largest in Japan, weighing in at 70 tonnes. It takes 17 monks to swing the log that hits the bell for Joya no Kane. But visitors remember! As the centre of this tradition, Chionin Temple is extremely crowded. You have to arrive early just for a chance to see the bell ringing, and if you want to ring the bell yourself, you’d have to get there even earlier and still not be guaranteed to get to hit the bell. If hitting bells are your thing, you may want to check out the Nanzenji Temple or the Kurodani (also known as Konkai Komyoji) Temple.
3. Feel the New Year Atmosphere in Kyoto’s Cultural Heart
Many have said that New Year’s in Japan has the status of Christmas in western countries. To experience the festive atmosphere, journey over to the Furumonzen Dori in Gion district. Focused traditional culture, the shopping street features many fascinating options this time of year. You can even choose to find accommodations in the area, with the Gion Hatanaka Ryokan being a particular draw for its traditional ambience!
Dates: Dec. 31st every year
Opening hours: Chionin Temple: 9:30 am to 4:30pm; Joya no Kane: 8:00pm to around 11:00pm (bell starts to ring around 10:40pm)
Address: 400 Rinka-cho, Higashiyama-ku Kyoto, 605-8686
Tel: +81 75-531-2111
Admission: free (there is a fee charged to see the temple gardens)