As mentioned last year Japan does New Years Eve a little differently. Instead of the countdown parties, champagne, glittery dresses, wild parties, and new years kiss, the traditional Japanese new year is spent praying the the local temple and shrine with your family. Smaller temples/ shrines may have a few families while famous ones in big cities will have several thousand people visit throughout the night.
My travel crew and I went to the Yasaka shrine and Cho-in Temple in Kyoto. This complex is one of the more famous and is right in the center of the city, that meant there were lots and lots of people.
As with any other outdoor celebration in Japan there was festival food. By now you probably know about my slight obesssion with food sold from stalls. The bacon wrapped, mayo covered, rices balls made another appearance. You better believe I ate myself silly that night.
We wandered around the shrine before 11 because the shrine is cleared out right before midnight. We then got in line to visit Choin Temple. Buddhist temples in Japan ring a bell 108 times on New Years Eve to cleanse the year of the 108 human sins. Since the temple was larger and famous the bell was huge. After waiting in line for about an hour and a half we were able to see the bell. The ringing device was about as wide as a telephone pole and 15 feet long. It took 7 monks to ring the bell. These guys weren’t just ringing the bell once, there were 108 strokes to be made that night.
I admit it was pretty cool to see. Maybe even worth the 1 1/2 hours of standing in freezing temperatures. The bell was bigger than I could have every imagined and the monks were traditionally dressed and chanting in between each ring. While the monks practiced this thousand year old tradition, it was being captured by iPhones and digital cameras. The juxtaposition of old and new was a great symbol of Japanese culture.
After the temple we enjoyed the Western tradition of Champagne at midnight. And considered visiting the shrine again to get our New years blessing. Then we saw the line. It was another 1 1/2 hour wait, in the cold. We were cold, tiered, and had already seen the shrine, and since non of us practiced Shinto the significance of visiting the shrine on New Years, wasn’t really there.
Although it took me another 2 days to defrost from the cold of New Years it was a pretty awesome experience.