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“Joya no Kane,” the soothing sound that brings back memories of the year

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2021.12.30 (Thu)

By Charlotte, long-term Tokyo resident & history-loving traveler

The year is coming to an end soon. How was your year in 2021? Most Buddhist temples in Japan have the custom of conducting the "Joya no Kane" at the turn of the year, as a symbol of looking back on the year and welcoming in the new year. "Joya" refers to the night on New Year's Eve and during the "Joya no Kane," the temple's bell is struck at night on New Year's Eve until the midnight on New Year's Day; the bell is usually struck 108 times. It is conducted so we can listen to the soothing sound of the temple bells as we look back on the year and welcome in the new year with a serene heart.

It is said that "Joya no Kane" originated from China and was introduced into Japanese culture 700–800 years ago. While there are various theories as to why the bell is struck 108 times, the most popular one comes from the Buddhist belief that humans have 108 vices and that each strike nullifies them one by one. Another theory is that it is the sum of the 12 months in the Gregorian calendar, the "24 Sekki" (the year is divided into 24 parts and given separate names) in Japan's traditional annual calendar, and the "72 Kou" (a more detailed division of the 24 Sekki), where 12+24+72 equals 108.

The various shrines in the Taito City will also conduct the Joya no Kane. At Sensoji Temple, you can see 108 local worshipers taking turns striking the bell. We can also reserve spots early by phone for Kaneiji Temple and online for Higashi Honganji Temple to get a chance to strike the bell ourselves (no more spots left for Higashi Honganji Temple online booking).

Please try looking back on your memories of the year while listening to the Joya no Kane. Thank you for all the support this year. I'm looking forward to seeing you back here again next year!

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