New Year's Eve temple bells | Time Out Tokyo

2020-2021 New Year’s Eve bells at Tokyo temples

Swing away your troubles and start the new year afresh at these traditional temple bell-ringing rituals

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Time Out Tokyo Editors
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Joya no kane is the traditional bell-ringing ceremony held across Japan on New Year’s Eve. Celebrating the passing of the old year and the beginning of a new one, it sees temple bells rung 108 times, once for each of the worldly desires or anxieties central to Buddhism, starting in the old year and finishing right as the clock strikes midnight.

Some temples even invite people to participate in the ringing. However, due to the Covid-19 pandemic this year, temples are requiring bell-ringers to register in advance for the pleasure, and some are limiting the practice to monks only. If you'd like to try swinging the beam to start the year fresh, or you’re happy to just watch and listen, read on for our picks of the top Tokyo temples to visit for the joya no kane ceremony.

Recommended: Some Tokyo trains have extended service on New Year's Eve and we have the timetables.

Best places to ring the bell

Araiyakushi Baishoin
  • Attractions
  • Religious buildings and sites
  • Araiyakushi-mae

Lending its name to the nearby Seibu line station, this Shingon temple has stood in Nakano since the 16th century, although the current building is rather more modern than that. Said to have the power to cure eye illnesses, Araiyakushi is where to get amulets and ema plaques customised for the purpose.

From 12midnight until 2am you can ring the joya no kane for a small fee that also includes an omamori charm.

  • Museums
  • Meguro

This Meguro temple enshrines 300 arhat statues, known as Meguro no Rakan-san. The total number of statues was once 536, but many have been destroyed over time. You can also visit the 3.5m-tall Jizo statue that gives energy and courage to worshippers.

In order to ring the joya no kane, you’ll have to make a reservation by phone (03 3792 6751). The event is limited to 108 people and participation costs ¥500 (omamori charm included). You can ring the bell from 11.40pm, but make sure to pick up your ticket at the temple office before heading over to the bell tower. Your reservation will be cancelled if you don’t show up before 12.45am and your ticket will be distributed to others.

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Honzan Higashi Honganji Temple
  • Museums
  • Asakusa

Higashi Honganji Temple in Asakusa belongs to the school of Jodo Shinshu, also known as True Pure Land Buddhism. Despite numerous fires and earthquakes, the temple has survived albeit after being repeatedly relocated and rebuilt. Tea ceremonies and flower arrangement classes are held regularly at the temple’s memorial hall. 

To ring the joya no kane, you’ll have to make a reservation in advance from December 19 by phone (03 3843 9511), online, or at the temple’s main hall. Be quick – the event is free and limited to 108 visitors. Ticket holders have to be at the temple by 11pm on December 31. You’ll listen to a short explanation and burn incense in front of the main hall before moving over to the bell tower. The bell-ringing takes place from 11.30pm, and afterwards you’ll even receive a special certificate.

Horinouchi Myohoji
  • Attractions
  • Religious buildings and sites
  • Koenji

People have been flocking to Myohoji since the Edo period (1603-1868). Known as a temple for yakuyoke (warding off evil), the grounds boast a number of historic structures which have been designated cultural properties either by the city or 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.

Only 100 people can partake in the joya no kane bell-ringing this year, but it’s free to participate – or to just listen – and the bell will be struck until 2am.

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Kaneiji Temple
  • Museums
  • Uguisudani

Kaneiji Temple was founded in 1625 and is one of the two bodaiji temples of the Tokugawa family that ruled over Japan between 1600 and 1868. Six of the 15 Tokugawa shoguns are buried here.

To strike the joya no kane at Kaneiji Temple’s Konponchudo main hall you’ll have to make an advance reservation by phone (03 3821 4440), but everyone who books will be able to take part. The event starts at 11.40pm and ringing the bell costs ¥3,000.

Best places to hear the bell

Nishiarai Daishi
  • Attractions
  • Religious buildings and sites
  • Adachi

This temple of the Buzan sect of Shingon Buddhism, formally known as Gochisan Henjoin Soji-ji, is famous for 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 joya no kane will be rung at midnight by temple staff this year. 

Takahata Fudoson
  • Attractions
  • Religious buildings and sites
  • Tama area

Situated in an area once associated with the Shinsengumi, the famed Edo-era police force, this is the ancestral temple of one of its members, Toshizo Hijikata. The colossal Joroku Fudo Sanson sculpture, which has been designated an important cultural property of Japan, weighs 1,100kg and is said to be the biggest of its kind in the country.

This year, you can’t sound the joya no kane yourself, but you can still listen as the monks ring the bell. 

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  • Attractions
  • Religious buildings and sites
  • Tsukiji

The Tokyo branch of the Nishi-Honganji temple in Kyoto, Tsukiji Honganji was established in Yokoyamacho near Asakusa in 1617, but the temple went up in flames in the Great Fire of Meireki and it was then relocated to Tsukiji. Completed in 1934, the current exotic exterior is made of stone with an Indian architectural motif and is the work of Chuta Ito, a former architecture professor at Tokyo University.

This year, the bell will be sounded by temple staff after the Buddhist service on New Year's Eve, which is limited to 250 members of the temple’s club (Japanese only) who make a reservation in advance. The club is free to join, but if all that sounds too complex, you can still head to the temple and listen to the bell’s resonant tones from the street.

Zojoji Temple
  • Attractions
  • Religious buildings and sites
  • Shiba-Koen

The main temple of the Buddhist Jodo sect in the Kanto area, Zojoji was built in 1393 and moved to its present location in 1598. The main hall has been destroyed three times by fire in the last century, the current building being a 1970s reconstruction. The most historic element is the Sangedatsumon main gate – dating back to 1605, it’s the oldest wooden structure in Tokyo. A mausoleum in the grounds contains the tombs of six Tokugawa shoguns. 

Even though tickets to actually ring the bell have already sold out, you can still head over to Zojoji Temple and enjoy the sound of the joya no kane.

Other ways to ring in the new year

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