Along with the coming of the new year, people are making preparations here and there and in other countries, people are now putting up Christmas decorations in their houses, schools and offices. While in Japan, Christmas is traditionally not a celebrated event due to the differences in religion. However, the new year here is what people look forward to more.
There are a number of ways to celebrate New Year’s in Japan and all of them include a celebration upon the arrival of the new year. There are family gatherings, end of year parties (bounenkai) with officemates or going on vacation. However, getting to try out a Japanese New Year’s tradition is not only an enjoyable experience but also very memorable. On top of that, the Tolling Bell Ceremony (Joya no Kane) tradition is also an event I would like to recommend.
The Joya no Kane is a yearly Japanese tradition wherein the large bell inside a Buddhist temple is struck 108 times on the New Year. There is actually a significant meaning to the number of times the bell is tolled. Bonnou (煩悩) represents and symbolizes the evil passions or desires of man and brings suffering to the people’s lives. The Bonnou is said to symbolize each strike that is made on the bells counting to 108.
The ringing of the bells 108 times helps people to get rid of these evil passions and desires. The tradition is like a type of purification through the bells. Although there are many Buddhist temples in Japan, there are only a few which allow the visitor to ring the bell because, in most cases, the Buddhist monks themselves would toll the bell. The opportunity to visitors is provided in ways like being one of the first 108 people to arrive early, buying a ticket beforehand or paying a small sum for striking the bell.
If you don’t mind waiting for midnight to witness this Japanese new year tradition then head down to your local Buddhist temple or if you want to experience a much grander one, then visit the larger Buddhist temples but be reminded that there are usually more people there who have come to pray and wait for the Joya no Kane.