On New Year's Eve, before midnight, many temples ring their bells 108 times. In Buddhism, it is said that human beings have 108 earthy desires that are the source of all sufferings. Listening to each toll of the bell helps to rid these sins, starting off the new year with a fresh mind and heart.
Other Events in December
At Yasaka Shrine, midnight on New Year's eve, the roots of the medicinal plant Okera (Atractylis ovata) are set ablaze, and lanterns in different locations within the shrine are lit with this fire. Okera is believed to cast away evil energy of the past year and provide a long life. It is one custom for visitors to take home the embers of the fire by constantly swinging a bamboo rope kindled with the fire, which is then used to cook ozoni, a mochi (rice-cake) soup, or to light a candle for the alter at home. This is the way, families will be blessed with peace for the new year.
Dec. 21st & 25th respectively.
On the 21st and 25th of every month a large flea market takes place at Kitano-tenmangu Shrine and To-ji Temple respectively. Many stalls fill the grounds selling antiques and bric-a-brac, kimonos, and food. The year-end markets are bigger than those held the rest of the year, and fill up quickly so go early to avoid the crowds.