New Year's Eve Countdown: Taipei 101 Fireworks v.s. Tokyo Sensoji Temple Ritual
It's December! The freezing, festive season that we all look forward to. Before you start on your long list of new year resolutions, chances are you're thinking about the fun stuff that comes before it. One of the major festivities that everyone plans on around the world is the New Year's Eve countdown. The collective energy of a crowd counting down together….and that new year’s kiss! Whether you've made plans already this year, or you’re still looking at flights to book, I have two great options for you to consider - Taipei & Tokyo!
taipei 101 fireworks
As a proud Taiwanese, I literally glance up at the 101 with pride every time I get a chance to go to Taiwan. I usually make it back to my hometown during Chinese New Year to spend time with relatives, but last year, I decided to take a short trip to Taipei check out the famous Taipei 101 fireworks.
Most (if not all) of my friends have been to Taipei for New Years. Many “ABTs” (American Born Taiwanese) consider it a yearly routine. I don't know how I missed the memo, but I just never managed to make it to Taipei until last year. And I was so excited to finally watch the fireworks in real life.
We joined a group of friends at Frank, the rooftop bar / club at ATT4FUN, which is the building right across from 101. (Also the building that is known for major parties in town.) Our table at Frank had the best view of the 101 building, and I could feel my anticipation build as the night progressed.
The fireworks were every bit as beautiful as I imagined. The thundering sound only adds to my excitement. Whether it’s a once in a lifetime thing or a yearly routine, this is the firework show you don’t want to miss. Besides, Taipei is such a short flight from everywhere in Asia, there’s really no reason not to go.
Tokyo sensoji new year's countdown
In the Western world, people value Christmas as possibly the most important holiday of the season. For the Chinese, it’s the Lunar New Year. For the Japanese, it’s the January new year when people get days off from work, spend time with family, and celebrate the yearly tradition.
Of course there are parties being thrown for NYE in Tokyo as well, but most people actually prefer to celebrate at the temples….and not at the clubs. This tradition is called Joya no kane, a ritual that is performed at several temples across Japan on Dec 31, when they ring out the old year with 108 strikes on a huge bell.
Why 108 times? In Buddhism, 108 is the number of earthly desires that cause humans much suffering, and joya no kane is supposed to purify humans’ minds and souls for the year up ahead.
One of the most popular temples in Japan on NYE is the Sensoji temple at Asakusa. When we arrived about 30 minutes before midnight, the temple is already filled with a long line of people waiting to ring in the new year. The interesting observation is that most people are actually young! Many of them look like couples in their 20’s, which really speak to how strong traditions are kept in generations in Japan.
Instead of joining the long queue, I opted to join the crowd in the big, open area inside the temple. Several food and drink vendors are selling their speciality treats, and free sake is passed out to everyone. Locals and tourists alike have their eyes fixated on the big bell as the time approaches midnight. Geishas and politicians are invited into the fenced bell area.
“5, 4, 3, 2, 1!” The crowd chanted in unison, in English! Then I heard a loud “dooooooong.” The ritual has started. The MC (I’m sure that’s not his real title) invited individuals up one by one to ring the bell. Even as I was leaving the temple about 40 minutes after midnight, the ritual hasn’t ended.
That was probably the most calming and soothing new year’s countdown I’ve ever had. No rowdiness, no shots of alcohol, or flashy skin-baring dresses. It’s refreshing to have an auspicious start to the new year!