Part II of Omisoka, the Japanese NewYear Eve. ashoka's emblem at a buddhist temple in japan

Was awed to see our own emblem shielding the buddhist temple @ Sapporo, Japan. Had known that Japan had borrowed several aspects from Indian culture, especially through Buddhism and Hinduism. But seeing something this large at a religious edifice was new to me. May be it is common in buddhist temples here..may be I am yet to see more of them.. but still..

The Lion Capital seal, Japanese Buddhism & Ashoka
The Lion Capital seal/emblem at Sarnath, near Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh was erected by Mauryan king Ashoka, during 3 Century BC, to mark the spot where Buddha first proclaimed his gospel of peace and emanicipation to the four quarters of the universe. After independence, on 26 Jan 1950, the Ashoka lion symbol or the Lion Capital seal was adopted as the State Emblem of India and his wheel of life appears on the Indian National Flag. A Government of India publication described the significance of these symbols in the following words: The National Emblem is symbolic of contemporary India’s affirmation of its commitment to world peace and goodwill. The 4 lions – symbolizing power, courage and confidence – rest on a circular abacus. The abacus is girded by 4 smaller animals – guardians of 4 directions: the lion of the north, the elephant of the east, the horse of the south and the bull of the west. The abacus rests on a lotus in full bloom exemplifying the fountainhead of life and creative inspiration. The motto ‘Satyameva Jayate’ from Mundaka Upanishid inscribed below the emblem in the Devanagari script, means ‘Truth Alone Triumphs’.

Joyanokane @ Omisoka
Well this is not all, I researched for more and the net came up with some answers. At Omisoka, the Japanese New Year Eve, one can hear the joyanokane, the ringing of a temple bell 108 times as the new year is born. Why 108 times? For an answer to that we have to trace the origins of Japanese Buddhism, far into the past. Buddhism, various Pagan gods, mathematics and a number of other things originally came through China from India. The Goddess Benten-sama, worshipped all over Japan is actually the Indian Goddess Sarasvati; Buddhist sutras and “magical language” used on sacred memorials is actually an altered form of Indian Sanskrit.

108 ?? juzu & mala
The prayer beads that most Japanese Buddhists use, called juzu, came from India where they are called mala, they always have 108 beads. Why so? The mala, analagous to the rosary, symbolizes the totality of the world and the circle of the heavens. In Indian astrology and religion, the circle of the visible universe was extremely important and clearly divided into 12 with each zone ruled by a constellation of the Zodiac, each represented by an animal. This system was used to understand and mark the exact moments when such things as the new year would occur. Now, each zodiac sign “zone” was further divided into 9 “digits,” much as a circle is divided into 360 degrees. Thus the totality of the heavenly round was 108 digits (9 x 12 = 108) and this number became sacred and a symbol of the cycles of life and time in India, China and, finally, Japan.
Thanks to Jayarava (see comments), there seems to be better explanation. Some facts from which the 108 sacredness would’ve derived: 

  1. Distance between earth and sun = 108 x sun’s diameter
  2. Distance between earth and moon = 108 x moon’s diameter (These 2 are referred in ancient Indian astronomy manuals as well)
  3. Therez also a 3rd one which may not have been discovered in ancient India.. that the diameter of the sun = 108 x earth’s diameter.

(after reading through all these.. I find itz difficult to get on to a final conclusion. yet letz conclude on the most plausible above)

Buddhism adopted these ideas from Hinduism, but added a new concept; “sins” or negative actions. Some Chinese Buddhist saint came up with the tradition of there being 108 sins and 108 beneficial acts to match the 108-digit circle of the universe. Since New Years Eve was the moment when all the past sins should be done away with, with the grace of Buddha, it became common to ring the temple bell 108 times. This would broadcast the power of the temple’s prayers and chants and anyone who heard this joyanokane would be washed clean of all last years sins, ready to begin a new year. It is for this reason that it is considered very unlucky in Japan to die near the end of the year!

Ref:
1. Wikipedia & Internet
2. Subhash Kak’s blog

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