The co-existence of several traditions in Japan creates a unique mix of antiquity and modernity. The majority of the Japanese are followers of Buddhism (and also of the traditional Japanese religion – Shintoism). Buddhism in Japan has adapted to a great degree to modernity – for example, while in many Buddhist countries they still use the lunar calendar, which makes the New Year Day floating, in Japan the New Year always arrives on January 1, even in the temples.
The Buddhist tradition requires the ringing of the temple bell in the night before the first day of the New Year. Every temple has a large bell, but unlike the church bells in the West, which make their sounds by moving the clapper inside, the Japanese bells ring by being hit by a large wooden log attached horizontally with ropes to the roof of the temple bell house.
During that night, starting exactly at midnight, the monks hold a short ceremony and start ringing the bell and then are joined by the visitors who do the same. The bell is supposed to ring over one hundred times, which brings purification and atonement for the transgressions committed during the year. All over the country, millions of people attend that ceremony at thousands of temples.
Last night we attended the bell ringing at a small temple in the university town of Tsukuba. Even though the place was small, it attracted over 100 people. We even spotted a Muslima with hijab in the crowd – it turned out she was an Indonesian physicist studying at the university (at this point it looks like not all Indonesians are extremely fanatical).
Exactly at midnight a group of temple monks showed up and started their prayers and chants. That took about ten minutes and in the end of the ceremony they hit the bell with the large piece of wood. After they finished, it was the visitors turn – they patiently waited in a long line to ring the temple bell.
Here are a few more pictures from that night:
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