Joya no kane is the traditional bell-ringing ceremony held across Japan on New Year’s Eve. Celebrating the passing of the year and welcoming a new one, temple bells are rung 108 times, once for each of the worldly desires or anxieties central to Buddhism. The tolling finishes as the clock strikes midnight.
Some temples invite the public to participate in the ringing so that you can be part of the purifying action.
Ten bell-ringing spots
The Tokyo branch of the Nishi-Honganji temple in Kyoto, Tsukiji Honganji, was established in Yokoyamacho, near Asakusa, in 1617. However, the temple went up in flames in the Great Fire of Meireki and the structure was relocated to Tsukiji. Completed in 1934, the exotic exterior is constructed of stone with an Indian architectural motif and is the work of former Tokyo University architecture professor Chuta Ito.
Bell ringing participation is limited to 350 people and you need one of the numbered tickets which are handed out at the main building from 10pm. You can also sound the bell after the Buddhist service on the night.
Standing on a lush hill above the buildings around Ikegami Station, this imposing temple is built on the site where Nichiren, founder of the Buddhist sect of the same name, is said to have died in 1282.
Climb the stone stairs from the south to the entrance of the enormous and beautiful main building, reconstructed in the 1960s. There is also a five-storey pagoda which survived the bombings of World War II and which is the oldest of its kind in the Kanto region.
The joya no kane will be struck from midnight, with numbered tickets handed out to the first 600 visitors to arrive at the bell tower.
Founded in 1591, this temple along Meiji-dori in Shinjuku is famed for its bell, which dates back to 1767 and is known as the ‘bell of time’ (toki no kane). Designated a cultural property of Shinjuku Ward, it was used to tell townspeople what time it was and warn customers at the nearby Naito Shinjuku pleasure quarters when it was time to leave.
It is a very popular spot for joya no kane, so arrive early or prepare for a long wait. The bell-ringing starts at midnight and goes on for as long as necessary – anyone can take part.
This temple of the Buzan sect of Shingon Buddhism, formally known as Gochisan Henjoin Soji-ji, is famous for its rings and amulets that are said to help people find love. It’s also very popular as a site of prayer around the New Year.
The sounding of the joya no kane starts at midnight, and as there are no limits on numbers, anyone who queues up can take part.
People have been flocking to Myohoji since the Edo period. Known as a temple for yakuyoke – the warding off of evil – the grounds of the temple boast a number of historic structures which have been designated cultural properties by the city or important cultural properties at the national level. The statues of the kongorikishi guardians, which sit on the left and right sides of the Nio-mon gate, are thought to have been donated by the fourth Tokugawa shogun, Ietsuna.
You’ll need to queue up to experience the joya no kane, but ringing the bell is free and the bell can be struck until 2am.