Are you looking for a place where you can enjoy the holiday season but have a different taste of it? Or do you want to experience a little deviation from your usual New Year’s celebration? Then Japan is the right place for you!
Celebrating the beginning of a new year in Japan is quite different from the rest of the world. While other countries welcome it with fabulous fireworks displays, loud sounds of party horns, polka dot outfits, round fruits around the house (for some culture, they symbolize prosperity), people in Japan are either in stores waiting in line for the New Year’s sale, or welcoming the year in a traditional way.
Yes, that is right! People who are inclined to do Japanese traditions expose themselves to the piercing cold weather for hours and hours, waiting for temples and shrines to open so that they can pray for good fortune and health. This first prayer of the year is believed to bring good luck throughout the year.
One of the places where you can see this kind of traditional New Year’s celebration is Zojoji Temple in Tokyo, one of the famous Buddhist temples in the city.
Here, old lucky charms and New Year decorations are burnt to honor the luck they provided for the past year. Some Japanese say that it has always been their tradition to burn old charms and then buy new ones at the temple on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day. It is believed that the charms, whether for luck or protection, have served their purpose for the year and a ceremonial burning is the proper way to dispose of them.
The ceremonial burning, lead by priests, happens in the middle of four pillars made of bamboo, which is believed to symbolize good luck and long life. As the charms and decors burn to ashes, people pray that all their wishes come true. And since the fire is considered sacred, the smoke from it is believed to reflect evil or bad luck.
After burning the charms and while waiting for the opening of the temple, you can enjoy tasting different kinds of Japanese street food at the various food stalls set up around the area.
The sight of Tokyo Tower, which you can see in the background, will also entertain you. Entertain how, you say? The tower, illuminated with different colors of lights, displays a countdown as the new year approaches. As the clock strikes midnight, the temple’s bell will also be rung several times and the temple will now be open for praying. Because thousands of people visit Zojoji Temple, people can only enter in batches and the crowds are managed by Japanese police officers.
As you move forward and finally enter the temple, you can now pray for all your heart’s desire. You can also throw your offering or donations inside. The sacred statues and other figures within the temple are covered with a net to protect them from any accidents or damage.
Different cultures, different traditions, but every New Year, everyone wishes for the same thing – to receive good things, to be protected, and to have a good life. Encountering this kind of tradition in Japan is quite interesting so go ahead and add it to your experiences!
Zojoji Temple New Year’s Event Website *Japanese only