I know I’m late but nevertheless “Happy New Year” to all of you!
We had our parents visiting and were travelling a lot. So no time for blogging. I’m trying to catch up with some of it now. And we’ll see how far I get. It’s now only three weeks left before I have to leave. J will stay another week but then he also has to return home. But let’s not think about this yet….
On December 31 we were travelling back to Tokyo on a Shinkansen from Nagano where we had visited the Snow Monkeys and stayed at a ryokan in Shibu Onsen. We knew that New Year’s Eve was not going to be the big party with fireworks as at home. Japanese people go to a temple to start the new year. 10 years ago J had experienced that at the Meiji Shrine with maybe 3 million other people…. We weren’t prepared to do that. However, a friend had put together a list with local temples worth visiting. Perfect!
Everybody was quite tired and J was recovering from being sick. So, in the end it was just me and my dad who wanted to go. I explained him how to get to the metro station closest to our home and waited there for him at 11pm with two bikes. It took him some time to arrive because he took a train in the wrong direction first, but about 20 minutes later he was there :-)
I had plotted down all the recommended temples on my map. We just chose one and started heading towards it. It took us maybe 15 minutes to arrive. The night was quite mild and quiet and it was very nice riding the bike. Approaching the temple we saw that everything was illuminated, the bars around the temple were open and we were definitely not the first ones….
There was already a queue in front of the shrine. So we parked our bikes and started queueing as well. Alongside the queue were food stalls and other attractions making the queuing not boring at all.
We were standing close to the washing place – where you should wash your mouth before praying – and were able overlook the main square of the temple.
Towards midnight we saw a few monks gathering around a pit, lighting up incense and starting to chant. Interestingly, people continued chatting, laughing, walking around, taking photos etc. It was not at all like in a church where you have to be silent. Closer to midnight the monks moved to the large bell and at midnight one of the monks – I guess it was the head monk – rang the bell and the whole crowd cheered up. Happy New Year!
The bell was actually one of the main reasons why I wanted to go to a temple. I heard that at some temples you could ring the bell yourself. And of course I wanted to do that! The list of temples I got were all temples where the public was allowed to do that. Yay!
And then the queue finally started moving. We moved past a basin with smoking incense where people seemed to clean themselves from all sides in the smoke and then up the stairs to the shrine. There we observed what the others were doing and remembered what some students told us when we visited the Meiji shrine. We threw a coin into the shrine, bowed twice, made our wishes, clapped twice and bowed again. Then we left.
We walked towards the bell and saw the queue in front of it. It was endless. That was the moment when I definitely realised that we had been standing in the wrong queue…
So, we just continued walking around the temple and enjoyed the atmosphere. At the bottom of the bell we saw this pile of trash which was being thrown in the pit where the monks had chanted and which was now lit with fire.
Later we learned that these were all the wishes and prayers from the last year that people were bringing in. They were thrown into the fire and burned together with the wishes that had been placed at the shrine during the past year. You can see those stacked behind the pit.