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Joya No Kane

December Highlight

December is probably the busiest month in Japan. Everybody is scrambling to find time buying End-of-Year presents, writing dozens of New Year's cards, and attending End-of-Year parties. Since Christmas is not celebrated in Japan and thus no public holiday, life only slows down in the last few days towards New Year's Eve.

New Year's Eve in Japan - and especially in Kyoto - is a quiet and spiritual observance, very far removed from the noisy parties and fireworks of the Western world. Most people visit their parents during this time - the first three days of January are national holidays - and together they may visit a temple to watch or even participate in the Joya-no-kane.

The bell of a Buddhist temple.

The Joya-no-kane is an important Buddhist ceremony. Almost all Buddhist temples in Japan have a large temple bell, and at Joya-no-kane at New Year's Eve, this temple bell is struck 108 times. This number represents the 108 worldly desires according to Budhist teaching, and each time the bell is struck, those who listen to the bell are cleared from this particular desire. The ancient tradition dictates that the first 107 times the bell rings in the old year, and the final, 108th time takes place the New Year. Listening to the temple bells echoing through the cold and quiet winter night of Kyoto is truly a spiritual experience.

If listening is not enough, we can recommend the following places to watch or even participate in the Joya-no-kane celebrations in Kyoto.

Chion-in Temple

December 31st, from 8 pm

Chion-in is the most famous temple for Joya-no-kane in Kyoto - the event draws some 30,000 visitors each year! The bell of Chion-in is one of the largest in Japan: with a height of 3.3 metres and a diameter of 2.8 metres. It weighs about 70 tons and ringing it requires 17 monks!

The temple gates of Chion-in open at 8 pm; there will be sutra readings at 10:20 and 10:35. The bell ringing itself starts at about 10:40, with intervals of about 1 minute. Note that there is a one-way path through the temple precincts and that the entrance gates will be closed again at 11 pm (or earlier if it is very crowded).

Kurodani Temple

December 31st, from about 11 pm

As mentioned above, many temples celebrate the Joya-no-kane, and some of them even allow visitors to ring the bell! A popular spot for DIY Joya-no-kane is Kurodani temple near Heian shrine. The ceremony starts at about 11 pm, there are prayers in the temple's main hall throughout, and free hot tea and amazake will be offered to the participants.

Shinnyodo Temple

December 31st, from about 11 pm

Nearby Kurodani Temple lies Shinnyodo Temple, where you can also help with the bell ringing. This temple is especially popular among foreigners living in Kyoto. Hot tea and amazake will be offered to the participants here as well.

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