Saturday, January 2, 2010

New Years at Zojoji Buddhist Temple

When Ian and I decided to go to the Zojoji Buddhist Temple we thought it might be a quieter way to ring in 2010. Let's just say we hadn't done our research. This was immediately obvious when we left the train station. It was a little before ten and the streets were already pretty clogged and everybody seemed to be headed the same direction we were. We should have known, the temple is an important one and New Year's Eve is one of the most important holidays in Japanese culture. They used to celebrate the Lunar new year (in February or toward the beginning of Spring), but the Gregorian calendar was adopted in 1873. When we got to the temple, there were quite a few people there, but it was by no means packed. Considering we didn't know much about the event, we were lucky to have gotten there ahead of the crowds. The rest of the night was equally lucky, as we seemed to catch on to things just before the majority of the crowd, so we always had a decent view.

Though there were many people, the atmosphere was very different from any public celebration of New Year's Eve that we've ever experienced. People weren't really drinking, though there was beer there and the whole feeling was pretty mellow. No one tried to bother the monks (though they probably wouldn't have succeeded if they tried) as they lit fires with sage, chanted and prayed. The only thing we knew in advance was that people let go of balloons with prayers tied to them at midnight. We didn't stand in line for balloons because we didn't want to waste the experience in line. It was all very amazing. Here are some pictures. I wish the quality were better, but it's difficult to use our camera at night.

The temple gate.

An early (around 10pm) view of the temple with Tokyo Tower in the background.

Inside the temple hall. Monks (and maybe nuns, too) are sitting around the shrine and chant singing. The head monk (I'm sorry, I don't know enough about Buddhism) is in the middle (in orange) with two others dressed in blue.

This video gives a better view of the monks and their attire.

The cemetery.

Prayer before fire lighting. The fire had sage in it, so, I assume it was for cleansing. It smelled nice and it filled the air with sage leaves.


Lighting the fire.

Big fire. It kept getting bigger until it was as tall as the trees around it.

The temple all lit up.


Vegetarian yakisoba. Not actually soba (one of the lucky dishes), but Ian and I called it close enough because all the soba had meat in it.

There was a high rise apartment building near by. We could see all the people standing at their windows watching the temple and the tower.

There were many many people there. It took us about 15 minutes to get out. I'm glad we got there at10pm.

2010 on Tokyo Tower.

It's the final countdown! Do do do do.... do do do do do...


  1. I'm confused about the soba. I thought Buddhists value all life and therefore generally do not eat meat?

  2. Great way to celebrate New Year's. I love the prayer balloons. Probably not the most environmentally-friendly way to celebrate but I love the idea behind it. And fireworks aren't exactly clean earth either, are they?

    Love you both. Happy New Year! And Happy 1/3-of-the-way-through-your-year-long-contract Day!

  3. What a wonderful way to spend new years together. What a awesome experience. The photos were wonderful, and it looked like you guys had a fantastic vantange point the whole night.

    The video was great and it was good to see your face wishing everyone a Happy New Year.

    I too thought Buddhists don't eat meat. But maybe that was a vendor there at the temple, and the monks would not be eating that anyway. Let us know.

  4. So, Buddhism's stance on vegetarianism is really complicated. It depends on the sect, really. Many Buddhists are vegetarians, but the Dharma says that they are never to reject anything offered to them (since needing is suffering and Buddhist believe all that you have and are given is all that you should want), so they're not supposed to reject any food. So, it's complicated and I suppose you'd have to ask the individual Buddhist.

  5. Oh, and we heard and later read that the balloons were biodegradable. They didn't look like normal plastic.