December 31 is called Omisoka in Japanese, the last day of the last month of the year. In the evening of December 31, many people in Japan come to a temple to hear the temple bells and start the New Year celebrations at midnight.
Senso-ji Temple is a popular place to hear the New Year’s Eve Bell. Senso-ji Temple’s Joya-no-kane ceremony in Asakusa is often shown on local and international TV.
Joya-no-kane marks when the old year ends and the New Year begins with 108 tolls of the bell. It is a Buddhist custom and 108 is a number with a special meaning. The bell rings once for each of the 108 earthly temptations and desires that cause a lot of human suffering.
On New Year and the first days of the year, Japanese people go out for a first visit to a shrine or temple. This is called Hatsumode. For good luck and to fight off evil many also get new Omamori at the beginning of the year. These are lucky charms or amulets.
People coming to make their wishes for the year line up already before midnight on the 31st. If you want to join the crowds you can take a train home after midnight. Most train lines are extending their service for this special occasion.
Have a good start into 2019!