At Year’s End
On New Year’s Eve in Kyoto, we would invite our friends over to our Japanese-style house to celebrate. We sat on tatami mats, tucking our legs under the kotatsu to keep warm. Like the Japanese, we ate a meal of soba noodles for long life and toasted with sake drunk from small cups. Just before midnight, we bundled up and climbed the hill to Matsugasaki Temple. For twelve years, this had been our year-end tradition: to eat, drink, and ring the temple bell. On our last New Year’s in Japan, however, something unusual happened.
When we arrived at the temple, people were already lined up. We had all come to ring the bell 108 times to rid the world of the 108 sins. The brass bell is huge—about three feet in diameter—and suspended from an enclosure in the temple courtyard. In front of it, hanging by a strong chain, is an 8-foot long log which you pull back wiht the rope and release, like a battering ram.
A bonfire had been lit in the courtyard and people gathered around it to get warm. As I waited in line, I remembered last year’s Daruma doll, which I had brought to burn. This doll is named after a Buddhist saint who vowed to sit in meditation until he became enlightened. He was so determined that he did not give up, even when his legs rotted off. Thus, Daruma symbolizes persistence and endurance. Made of papier-maché, the dolls are round and have no legs. They are weighted so, if they fall over, they right themselves. Daruma dolls come in all sizes. Mine was small, only four inches. In keeping with Japanese tradition, I had bought it on the first day of the New Year, made a vow and drawn in one of his eyes. Only when you have achieved your goal are you allowed to fill in the other eye.
I took the Daruma doll out of my pocket and tossed it into the bonfire. It rolled out. All the Japanese went ‘E-eh-e-eee?!’ I picked it up and threw it back in. It rolled out again. By this time the Japanese were edging away from me. I picked up my Daruma and threw it into the fire once again. This time it didn’t roll out.
at year’s end
burning the Daruma
with only one eye