Translated by Verity Lane
Joya-no-Kane (New Year's Eve Bell) - Japanese Encyclopedia
Written by k_yamamuro
Joya-no-Kane is the custom of ringing a temple bell on New Year's Eve in Japan. Practiced throughout the country, priests and temple visitors ring this symbolic bell 108 times to usher in the New Year. Learn more about this tradition, where to see it, and perhaps try it out yourself!
Joya-no-Kane: Ringing the New Year's Bell at Midnight
Photo by Pixta
Joya-no-Kane refers to the annual ringing of bells on the night of New Year's Eve at temples nationwide. In fact, "joya" is one way of saying "New Year's Eve" in Japanese while "kane" stands for "bell."
Watch the video below to listen to the New Year's bell of Chion'in, a famous temple in Kyoto.
108 Bell Rings to Welcome the New Year
According to ancient custom, the bell is typically rung 107 times on December 31 and once more, when the clock strikes midnight on New Year's. Bridging one year to the next, the bell is rung a total of 108 times.
According to the Buddhist teachings, this number represents the 108 worldly desires (*1) that a person experiences throughout the course of their life. When the bell is finally struck for the 108th time, it is believed that you'll be cleansed of your problems and worries from last year.
*1 The concept of 108 worldly desires originates from the Buddhist teachings. These desires refer to the anxiety and hardships caused by material wants.
On the night of New Year's Eve (around 23:00), many temples across Japan customarily ring their bells. Listening to the solemn sound while waiting for the start of another year is a tradition that has existed since ancient times.
Picture from Todaiji: Visit Nara’s Great Buddha Hall
Depending on the temple, some may even allow shrine visitors to take turns ringing the bell. If you want to participate, it is advised to show up early as some temples issue tickets in the order of visitors' arrival.
Nara's Todaiji Temple and Chion'in in Kyoto are known to have gigantic bells that require the combined force of 17 monks to ring them. These sacred sites are famous places to see and hear this annual spectacle.
Since the ceremony ends after 108 strikes, there are times when throngs of early visitors arriving and participating can cause it to finish sooner than expected. Please try to arrive ahead of time to see this year-end festivity!
At night, the temple may serve beverages like sake or amazake while larger temples may even serve food.