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Friday, 31 December, 1999, 17:32 GMT
Solemn ritual in Japan
Celebrating in Tokya's fashionable Ginza shopping district
Celebrating in Tokyo's fashionable Ginza shopping district
By Tim Hirsch in Tokyo

The build-up to midnight at Shojoji temple in the centre of Tokyo was a mixture of solemn ritual and relaxed celebration - an altogether more restrained occasion than the revelry which greeted the new millennium in other parts of the globe.

Into 2000
In this Buddhist complex at the foot of the famous Tokyo tower, thousands of Japanese families, some of the women wearing colourful traditional kimono, gathered to pray for prosperity and good fortune in the coming year.

Monks clad in colourful robes and head-dresses chanted solemnly in front of the 17th century wooden pagoda.

Ringing the bell at Shojoji temple
A few seconds before 12 o'clock, all the paper lanterns around the temple grounds were put out and the crowd was plunged into darkness as a digital clock display gave the final countdown.

At the moment of midnight the lights came up, hundreds of balloons were released and the figure 2000 blazed in huge lights high up on the Tokyo tower.

Thousands of baloons were released in the air
The traditional element of the ceremony continued with the tolling of the huge 15-tonne cylindrical bell inside the pagoda.

Cast in 1673 during the Shogun era, its booming tones reverberated through the Tokyo streets, sounding 108 times to represent the 108 human weaknesses or evils which Buddhists will try to avoid in the coming year.

Celebration in part

Amongst all this ritual there was also a party atmosphere, with stalls inside the temple grounds selling traditional snacks.

But there was not a sense of this being much different from the usual New Year celebrations which are, in any case, the high point of the Japanese calendar.

That is partly because the millennium does not have any great significance here - the year 2000 is simply 12 Hei Sei, or the 12th year of the reign of the present emperor, Akihito.

For the Imperial family there has not been much cause for celebration, with news just 24 hours earlier that Crown Princess Masako had suffered a miscarriage.

The news dashed hopes of a New Year announcement that a future heir to the Chrysanthemum Throne could finally be on the way.

See also:

31 Dec 99 | Asia-Pacific
31 Dec 99 | Asia-Pacific
31 Dec 99 | Asia-Pacific
31 Dec 99 | Asia-Pacific
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