Like in any other country in the world, December 31st is a special day in Japan. Lots of things happen from Midnight on, as the Japanese people observe the O-Shogatsu. O-Shogatsu or New Year celebration is followed by a lot of people. Japanese people have been decorating their house and preparing special dishes. And then, around midnight, many people visit temples where temple bells are rung at midnight. One of the most impressive and popular place to see this is the Chion-in Temple.
After the temple and the bells ringing, people will visit a shrine to pray for good luck. The Yasaka-jinja Shrine, located near Chion-In is a perfect spot for this.
Try to arrive early at the Chion-In Temple, because there are a lot of people. There, 17 monks will pull ropes attached to the log that strikes and rings the greatest bell in Kyoto. They will swing that log into the 74 ton bell 108 times to ring-out the negative passions (greed, hate, envy…) of those who hear it and cleanse all for a fresh start for the next year.
It’s a tradition that’s gone on year after year for hundreds of years at Chion-in, which was established in the early 12th Century by a disciple of Hōnen, priest and founder of the Jodo (“Pure Land”) sect of Buddhism. “The colossal main gate, the Sanmon, was built in 1619 and is the largest surviving structure of its kind in Japan.”
After visiting the Chion-In temple, walk to the nearby Maruyama Park, then follow the crowds making their way on to the Yasaka Shrine.