Ringing in the New Year in Nikko

The New Year holiday in Japan symbolizes spiritual renewal and a new start. People visit temples and shrines to pray for good fortune for the year ahead, and sometimes stay up to see the first sunrise of the year. Nikko's famous World Heritage shrines and temples, along with its beautiful mountains and parks, are ideal places to celebrate Japan's New Year’s traditions. Be sure to dress warmly and arrive early to avoid traffic congestion.


Sounding the Temple Bells

Temples in Japan have a large bronze bell called a bonsho. The deep, penetrating sound is believed to have the power to stop suffering and provide serenity. At the start of the year, Buddhist monks and visitors ring temple bells 108 times to purge people of their 108 earthly desires. In Nikko, the sound of bells resonates from the town’s many temples at the start of the year during bell-ringing ceremonies. Visitors gather at temples around Nikko from 11:00 p.m. on New Year's Eve to have a chance to ring the bell at midnight. At Nikkosan Rinnoji Temple, Nikkosan Chuzenji Temple, and Nikkosan Onsenji Temple, the bells ring through the precincts on New Year’s Day (midnight on January 1).


The first shrine or temple visit of the year

People throughout Japan visit their local shrine or temple during the first days of the new year to pray for the year ahead and welcome a fresh start. This tradition is called hatsumoude, or "first visit." Some shrines and temples offer special prayer services, host New Year’s parties and early morning festivals, and give out warm amazake (sweet sake) to those waiting in the cold. The World Heritage shrines and temples of Nikko are frequented by many visitors every year at this time. At Nikko Toshogu Shrine, a special New Year’s Day prayer service is held to pray for safety and success in business, among other things, and a festival is held on the grounds from 6:00 a.m. Nikkosan Rinnoji Temple holds a New Year’s Eve event from 11:45 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. including a bonfire, prayers and the ringing of the bell at midnight. Nikko Futarasan-jinja Shrine holds prayer services and offers local sake to visitors. Shrines and temples in the Okunikko and Imaichi areas have similar ceremonies and events.


Watching the first sunrise

According to Japanese legend, Toshigami, the deity of the new year, arrives with the first sunrise. People believe that watching the sunrise on January 1 brings good luck. Nikko’s rich natural surroundings offer great locales for awaiting the sunrise. Nikko Kirifuri-ohashi Highland Kisuge-daira Park has magnificent views and is easy to get to by car. Other great places to watch the sunrise include Kirifuri-ohashi Bridge, Akechidaira Parking Lot, and Lake Yunoko. Note that the roads are often icy early in the morning. If you travel by car, use snow tires or tire chains, and drive safely. The estimated time for sunrise in Nikko is around 6:45–7:00 a.m. in January.

Areas of Nikko