All right, so you have decided to spend the holidays in Kyoto, the cultural and historical center of Japan. But if you haven’t prepared, thinking that checking information online or in guidebooks isn’t important for this holiday, you will be in for a surprise. New Year’s Eve and the New Year holidays are very special to Japanese culture, more equivalent to Christmas than to New Year’s in the west or the US in particular.
So what will most people do, and what should you do as a tourist to experience this unique seasonal culture in Kyoto?
New Year’s Eve3>
Usually family members gather to spend this holiday together. On New Year’s Eve they visit a temple nearby to listen to the sound of a ringing bell, called Jyoya no Kane around 23:45. The bell at each location is rung 108 times. The reason for this particular number is that it is believed that a person has 108 earthly desires and that they can be purified by ringing the bell (it is true that many go to hear these bells, but a lot of people stay at home and just listen).
Here are some of the temples where you can actually participate in this tradition, in other words, you can ring the bell. These temples are picked with accessibility in mind.
Shoren-in Temple will be open at 23:45. People can ring the bell on a first-come basis.
The ticket will be distributed per group at 22:00. This means you and your friends or family ring the bell once together.
Tickets are not provided. Just visit the temple at around 23:30.
108 tickets will be distributed from 22:00.
New Year Holidays
During New Year holidays, which are usually from January 1st to 3rd, people visit a shrine to make a wish for the new year. And where is the best place to do that in Japan? Yes, it’s Kyoto! Kyoto has plenty of historical and prestigious shrines, and some of them are even designated as World Heritage sites. And as you can easily guess, there are countless numbers of people coming to Kyoto and visiting one of these shrines. It’s up to you to decide whether it is worth visiting these busy shrines to immerse yourself in the culture or not.
With that thought in mind, here are theshrines that are regarded as the best shrines to visit and attract tens of thousands of people followed by less famous and busy shrines (this doesn’t mean that they are less valuable). Note that although they are not as popular, there are still larger than usual numbers of local visitors.
4 Very Popular Shrines
Fushimi Inari Temple
It is the most popular shrine to visit during this season in Japan. Take JR Nara Line from Kyoto Station and get off at Inari Station, or use Keihan Line and get off at Fushimi Inari Station.
Kitano Tenmangu Shrine
Kitano Tenmangu Shrine enshrines God of Study, Michizane Sugawara. Due to this fact, this shrine attracts many families with kids. About 250,000 people visit on Janunary 1st.
Heian Jingu Shrine
During this season, usually 400,000 people visit this shrine and look up at the gigantic vivid vermilion Torii Gate.
It is one of the World Heritage Sites in Kyoto. 200,000 visitors are expected every year in this holiday season. It is famous as a shrine to pray for meeting a special someone in the near future.
3 Less Crowded Shrines
Small but unique. Seimei Shrine is dedicated to the legendary “Onmyoji” ying-yang master, Seimei Abe.
Although it is just as prestigious and respected as Shimogamo Shrine, because of its lack of accessibility, fewer people (but still a large number) visit Kamigamo Shrine. And just like Shimogamo, it is a World Heritage Site as well.
This shrine enshrines the lord Hideyoshi Toyotomi, who was born into a farmer’s family(1537-1598). Another World Heritage Site, Sanjyu Sangendo is within easy walking distance.
Or if you rather want to read the guidebook on your Kindle e-book reader or application, then get our Kyoto e-Guidebook on Amazon instead.