Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Year's Eve a la Kyoto

I was all set for a quiet, reflective night in. The incense was burning, candles were lit, music was playing and I had just finished slurping my Toshi Koshi Soba when the phone rang... My friend Mark Hovane, who lives close by, asked if I was planning on going anywhere to "ring the bell" and I replied in the negative as I had declined an invitation to climb Mount Kurama to do so and wasn't sure where else to go... I jumped at his invitation to join him at Shinyodo temple just around the corner from both of us and his usual NYE haunt.  I didn't get to experience any formal proceedings last year so this was a wonderful opportunity.

It was a perfect evening, not too cold and fairly quiet by Japanese standards, possibly because of the slippery roads. The snow covered trees illuminated by lanterns were breathtaking and while it might have been handy to have a tripod I was also trying to be a little "in the moment".  We sipped on aromatic grass tea scented with cinnamon, served to us by Buddhist monks in golden robes before lining up to ring the giant bell by swinging a large log-on-a-rope into it  - at the same time considering our new years wishes.  A bell is rung 108 times around midnight at temples all over Japan - helping us to deal with the 108 earthly desires, according to Buddhism.  The resounding gong and deep vibrations had no choice but to enter one's body, positively charging it for the year ahead. 

After the temple we walked to Heian Jingu for Hatsumode - or first shrine visit of the year. It was a very different atmosphere, plenty of people in a festive mood warming up on a favourite winter tipple- amazake ( a thick, sweet, gruel like sake) and tucking into festival fare - okonomiyaki, takoyaki, filled crepes and the like - none of it of particularly high quality. There was a wild shaking of canisters from which the year's fortune would be delivered  - but no fear if its not favourable - just tie it on the shrine fence and let the gods sort it for you. I finished my amazake and crunched my way home in the remaining snow and ice around 2am, enriched by the experience. And most appreciative to have found new friends here  - all of whom have been looking after me so very well. 


  1. Wow, your photos are AMAZING!

    I want go out and 'foodie' with you sometime, and take some piks too.

  2. Hey - I was just checking out some stuff on your blog and thinking the same thing!

    Let's go eat somewhere soon. Drop me a line on


  3. はっ、はっ〜

    k. I sent you an email.

  4. Jane, are there only 108 earthly desires? Would chocolate be one of them? :)

    Anyway, just wanted to stop by to say thank you for sharing your pictures with us. Even if the 108 gongs would have been particularly noisy ringing around Japan, everything looks absolutely serene and peaceful. Makes the Aussie New Year look a bit too rowdy!

    Wishing you a great New Year!


  5. Trissa I think Chocolate is right up there!! It was a truly wonderful evening and a very different experience to New Years in Oz - that's for sure. I have to say I prefer it this way - but maybe I'm just getting old!

    Wishing you a wonderful 2011 and thank you for your support. J