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HISTORIC KANSAI : Higashiyama in Kyoto is the best place to greet a new millennium

By Junzo Tanaka
There are a number of matters such as the advent of a new millennium and the possibility of a Y2K glitch that bother many people as they prepare to say farewell to the year 1999 and greet the New Year. Some people say the best thing for them is to remain quiet at home. However, for those who still want to experience the year-end and the New Year in Japan, I suggest that they visit Higashiyama in Kyoto.
The word ""Kyoto"" was a common noun meaning a capital, but it became a proper noun since the capital called ""Heiankyo"" was established in the place bearing the name ""Kyoto"" in 794. (Kyoto was the Japanese capital until it was transferred to Tokyo in 1868.)
Since Kyoto is an ancient capital, it gives an auspicious atmosphere at year-end and New Year. Particularly, a stretch of Higashiyama is a popular area for devout worshipers who pray for safety in a transition from the departing year to the beginning of the year.
My suggestion is Heian Shrine, which is in a section of Higashiyama. It is one of Kyoto's ""newer shrines"" built in 1895 on the occasion of the 1,100th anniversary of the establishment of Heiankyo. The shrine is a reconstruction to 5/8 scale of Daigoku-den Hall that was the core building for politics in ancient Japan. The shrine is a precious structure. The sprawling white sand ground and vermilion-lacquered shrine offer a pretty contrast, and are said to be as beautiful as ""Ryugujo"" (the Sea God's Palace), an imaginary seabed palace that appears in a Japanese folktale.
The hanging lanterns are lit in the shrine's long corridor on the New Year's Eve, conspicuously displaying the entire structure. Known as ""Manto"" (literally 10,000 lights), this event is designed to pray for the safety and health of people by lighting countless numbers of lanterns.
At the stroke of midnight, temples throughout Japan strike bells and their sound echoes far and wide to drive away the spirits that torment people. Time-honored temples that line the Higashiyama area also release the sound of bells all at once to embrace Heian Shrine. It would be a blessing if this solemnity leads us to forget our many worries.