Dec. 17, 2015 UPDATE
Feature
Kyoto is full of excitement as New Year approaches
Part 1

Everyone is busy getting ready for New Year!

Everyone is busy getting ready for New Year!
At the end of the year, everyone heads out on the town to go shopping to prepare to welcome the gods we mentioned earlier. Like anywhere else, Nishiki Market in central Kyoto is packed with people.
People buy lucky foods like round mochi cakes and beautiful pink and white kamaboko (a cake made from a white fish paste), as well as traditional decorations and various other odds and ends. Many shops are closed for New Year’s Day, so be sure to check which household necessities, etc. you need and buy them before the end of the year. People feel a combination of impatience to get ready in time and excitement for the coming New Year. People also join in large outdoor ceremonies to greet the turning of the year together. These important ceremonies cleanse the mind of confusion and impurity so that you can start the year off feeling fresh. We will introduce some spots where people in Kyoto go to prepare to welcome in the New Year both physically and spiritually.
The Nishiki Market area is packed with shoppers!
Nishiki-mochitsuki-ya
As an offering to the gods, mochi is an indispensable part of celebrations like New Year’s Day. Nishiki-mochitsuki-ya is a shop located in Nishiki Market where you can enjoy foods made from freshly made mochi. At the storefront, they sell mochi, as well as things like mitarashi dango and daifuku. Inside, you can sit on the tatami and enjoy foods such as freshly-baked mochi with various flavorings and zoni soup. If you are lucky, you might be able to see mochitsuki (the staff use a special mallet to pound the mochi), which is performed at irregular intervals. The spectacle and excitement are a lot of fun.
Marutsune Kamaboko Ten
Marutsune Kamaboko Ten is a shop in Nishiki Market founded over 50 years ago. It is famous for selling kamaboko, but we recommend their creative fried foods, which you can eat on the go. They sell a wide variety, but “Jaga butter ten” is the most popular. There are also unique varieties, like curry flavor. They have menus in English as well, and the shop staff is friendly and helpful. If you want to eat your fried food hot, they will heat it up for you in the microwave.
Suuzando HashimotoーMain Store
In Japan, there is a New Year’s Day custom called Otoshi-dama, where adults give gifts to children. As a celebration of New Year, they give children money in a small envelope called a Pochi-Bukuro. We recommend buying Pochi-Bukuro at Suuzando HashimotoーMain Store. It is located a 2-minute walk from Nishiki Market, and it sells postcards, envelopes, and other items made with traditional Japanese paper. All of the products are printed with seasonal Japanese patterns designed by artisans. There is a wide selection of Pochi-Bukuro with cute animal designs. Sending a letter in one of these is sure to make the receiver happy as well.
Go shopping in a famous market!
Toji Kobo Market─Shimaikobo
Toji Kobo Market is a market held on the 21st of every month at Toji Temple near Toji Station on the Kintetsu Kyoto Line. There are more than 1,000 shops and stalls selling curios like ceramic tableware and textile products. December 21st is called Shimaikobo, and many items related to New Year are on sale. Be sure to go if you love antiques. It is also fun just to look around aimlessly. Keep in mind that it gets very crowded most years.
Greet the turning of the year at a temple or shrine!
Chion-in─Joya No Kane”New Year's Eve Bell”
Most temples in Japan hold a ceremony on New Year’s Eve, continuing into the New Year, called Joya No Kane, or ”New Year's Eve Bell.” The bell is rung 108 times. The effect is to banish the 108 worldly passions said to cause people suffering so that they can greet the New Year feeling refreshed. Chion-in’s bell is one of Japan’s three most famous temple bells. The striking of the bell accompanied by the shouting of 17 monks is quite the spectacle. The visitor’s entrance opens at 20:00 on December 31st, and it closes at 23:00, so you have to enter before then. Joya no Kane starts at 22:40.
Yasaka Shrine─Okera Matsuri
From late at night on December 31st until dawn, ropes are set alight in “Okera lanterns” at three locations on the grounds of Yasaka Shrine. When taken home and used to kindle a fire for cooking zoni, etc., they are said to bring good health for the year. When the flame is extinguished, the rope is said to be a good luck charm that protects against fires. Keep in mind that you will not be able to bring a burning rope on a bus or train.

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