Temple bell
Temple Bell
Chion-in Temple, Kyoto

Omisoka, New Year’s Eve, is an important day in Japanese tradition, as it is the day before the most important holiday of the year: New Year.

It is common to clean the whole house on this day, a ritual called Ôsouji, which literally means “big cleanup”; primary schools also perform Ôsouj before they go into their winter vacation.

The newly cleaned home is festooned with special images. A kadomatsumade of pine boughs, bamboo and straw and said to have the power to attract good fortuneis placed on either side of the front entrance. Over the door is hung a shimekazari, a decoration which indicates that the home has now been purified and thus ready to welcome the divinities which, according to a popular belief, have the power to bring happiness and to ward off evil spirits.

On Omisoka it is traditional to eat noodles to see the old year out; at the very end of the day, usually around 11 o'clock at night, special noodles called toshikoshi-udon—literally “crossover year noodle”—are consumed.

A few minutes before midnight, crowds gather at the temple to hear the bell struck 108 times, a precaution intended to drive away all of the previous year’s sins and thus ensuring a fresh new start.