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TokyoTreat Japanese Snacks BlogRing the Bell: Fun Things to Do for the New Year!

Ring the Bell: Fun Things to Do for the New Year!

James LauJames Lau
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December 19, 2023
A fireworks show near Odaiba, a way to ring the bell in the new year!

As the year ends, it’s time to ring the bell for a fresh start and welcome the New Year! Beyond the usual countdowns, there are unique traditions that Japan celebrates! Let’s explore the exciting ways Japan embraces the spirit of the New Year, incorporating cultural customs that have been celebrated for a long time!

Joya no Kane

In Japan, Joya no Kane takes place on Omisoka, the last day of the year. Temple bells ring 108 times at midnight to usher in the new year. People also visit shrines and temples, expressing gratitude for the past year and making wishes for the year ahead.

A Buddhist monk at a shrine who is ringing the bell for the new year.
People ring the bell 108 times. Image via Shutterstock

The 108 bell rings are significant in Buddhist principles, symbolizing the mind’s senses, feelings, and troubles. According to legend, these rings can cleanse the soul of negative energy, bringing a sense of renewal and peace as the new year begins. This tradition is an essential part of Buddhism and is one of the most important ceremonies.


Hatsuhinode, Japan’s first sunrise of the year, symbolizes renewal and aspiration. It is believed to be when toshigami-sama, the deity of the New Year, blesses followers with good health and prosperity. Many Japanese await the first sunrise by heading to scenic spots such as mountains, beaches, or tall buildings.

The first sunrise of the New Year.
Hatsuhinode is the first sunrise of the New Year. Image via Shutterstock

Some places are set up for observing the first sunrise with special events. They also enjoy soups and amazake, and even religious ceremonies. The tradition comes from Shinto, the traditional Japanese religion, and is deeply rooted in the country’s culture and history.

Additionally, people believe if your first New Year’s dream (hatsuyume) includes Mt Fuji, a hawk, and an eggplant, you’re sure to have a prosperous year! As you can see, New Year’s in Japan is about getting off on the right foot!


Hatsumode, the first shrine visit of the Japanese New Year, is a tradition where people visit shrines or temples. They do this to show thanks for the past year and pray for good fortune in the new one. It creates a festive atmosphere with food stands and crowds lining up for prayers and lucky charms. The tradition is flexible, allowing visits on later dates to avoid the initial rush.

A shrine during hatsumode.
Hatsumode is the first shrine visit of the New Year. Image via Shutterstock

Men traditionally wear a full kimono during hatsumode. Many temples and shrines across Japan participate. However, the most popular ones in major cities have millions of visitors during New Year’s. The custom also involves buying a written fortune called omikuji. If people get a bad fortune, they can tie it to a tree on the shrine grounds, and it won’t come true.

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Omikuji involves drawing a paper slip at a shrine or temple to read your fortune, especially during the New Year’s hatsumode celebrations. These slips come in various types, including cute animal-themed ones. The drawn omikuji reveals one’s luck on a scale from great blessing, or daikichi, to terrible fortune, or daikyo, covering different parts of life like love, health, and money. If the result is bad, you can tie the slip to a tree and leave the bad fortune behind.

A bunch of omikuji.
Omikuji are fortunes from a shrine! Image via Shutterstock

Visitors typically start by washing their hands at the shrine’s entrance and praying to get an omikuji. After donating, they draw a numbered stick from a container and retrieve their matching omikuji. Don’t worry if you can’t read Japanese; more prominent shrines in Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto usually have English translations for you! Some shrines are also for specific matters, like childbirth or education, so you can get an omikuji, especially for those aspects!

Why should I ring the bell for the Japanese New Year?

Whether you’re ringing a temple bell, watching the sunrise, or seeking blessings at a shrine, we hope you’re celebrating the New Year! Make sure to draw your omikuji and read your fortune, but don’t worry if you get a bad one! You can always try again, and even pick up an omamori for extra protection!

Fireworks near Sensoji, one of many ways to bring in the New Year.
How do you plan to ring the bell for the new year? Image via Shutterstock

As you go on these adventures, remember the joy of new beginnings, shared moments, and the excitement of what awaits you in the New Year. Don’t forget to check out the first sunrise for good luck! Have you ever done any of these activities? What are you going to do for the New Year? How do you plan to “ring the bell?” Tell us in the comments below! 

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