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Embracing New Year's Eve at Sensoji: A Simple Guide to the Joya-no-kane Ceremony

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2023.12.21 (Thu)

By Dan Lewis, inbound tourism adviser and consultant, long-term Japan resident & outdoor activity enthusiast.

As the year draws to a close, Sensoji Temple in Asakusa, Japan, becomes a focal point for those seeking a meaningful start to the New Year. The temple, renowned for its rich cultural history and spiritual significance, hosts a captivating event known as the Joya-no-kane ceremony, literally ringing in the New Year with the resonant chime of the temple bell. This marks the transition from the old year to the new, capturing the attention and hearts of all those present.

On the eve of New Year's Day, the temple grounds buzz with anticipation as worshippers gather to partake in the ancient Buddhist tradition. As the clock strikes midnight, the resonant chime of the temple bell echoes through the crisp winter air, signaling the commencement of the new year. This sacred moment is met with exuberant cheers from the throngs of visitors who have patiently awaited this symbolic transition.

The Nakamise shopping arcade leading to the temple is abuzz with activity, offering a vibrant atmosphere as people prepare to embark on their spiritual journey. However, the popularity of the event comes with a price — long queues are common, and visitors are advised to be patient as they wait for their turn to enter the temple.

The Joya-no-kane ceremony centers around the resonating tones of the temple bell atop Bentenzan, situated in the southeastern precinct of the temple grounds, concluding with the deliberate tolling of 108 chimes. This mystical number holds special significance, representing the earthly temptations and desires that contribute to human suffering. The 108 tolls, lasting approximately 40 minutes, provide worshippers with a meditative space to reflect on the past year, express gratitude for blessings received, and set intentions for the year ahead.

For those planning to partake in this unique experience, practical advice is crucial. Preemptively using restroom facilities and establishing meeting points for family and friends will make it easier to find each other in the sea of people that are sure to attend.

As the bell tolls and the new year dawns, visitors are encouraged to embrace the Japanese tradition of Hatsumode — the first shrine or temple visit of the year — to seek blessings and fortify themselves against the challenges that lie ahead. The purchase of Omamori, lucky charms or amulets, is a customary practice believed to bring good fortune and protection from evil.

In essence, the Joya-no-kane ceremony at Sensoji Temple offers a poignant and culturally rich way to bid farewell to the old and welcome the new. May the sound of the temple bell resonate in the hearts of all who partake, ushering in a year filled with blessings, good fortune, and joy.

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