Whether you want maximize your travel experience or you just want to stock some knowledge in the pocket of your head, it is good to know the annual events of a country we want to visit. Annual events in Japan is called Nenchuu Gyooji 年中行事. Below is a list of holidays and events celebrated all over Japan.
This is Japan’s most celebrated event of the year. It is not only a one-day celebration, but it is celebrated for a couple of days. Days before Oomisuka (on the eve of December 31st), Japanese do the “oosouji” (general cleaning) and decorate their houses with kadomatsu (bamboo display), shimenawa (rice straw ornament) and kagami mochi (mirror rice cake) to prepare for the coming New Year. On New Year’s Eve, they eat a special dish called osechi ryouri which symbolizes good fortune for the new year, and toshi-koshi soba (buckwheat noodles) for saying goodbye to the old year. On the first day of the year (gantan), most people watch the first sunrise locally known hatsuhinode and visit shrines and temples known as hatsumoude. And the kids most excited about is receiving their otoshidama, a money-gift from parents and relatives.
Setsubun, literally means “seasonal division”, is a celebration for the last day of winter in the traditional Japanese calendar (usually February 3 or 4). During the celebration, Japanese throw beans to drive away the demons (usually played by the father wearing a demon’s mask) and draw in happiness. While throwing the beans they shout “Oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi” (Demons out, happiness in.) And at the end, you have to eat as many beans as your age.
On February 14th, while many women in most countries are feeling elated with all the love and admirations, chocolates, flowers and balloons they receive from their boyfriends and admirers, Japan does the opposite. It is customary for women to give chocolates to the man they admire. However, nowadays, giving chocolates to friends (tomochoco) is becoming common.
On the third day of March, families with girls celebrate their daughters’ good health, growth and prosperity. Hinamatsuri, also called Doll’s Festival in English, is a one-day celebration when you can see a display of dolls on a seven-tiered platform (sometimes five) covered with red cloth. Different sizes of dolls and other miniatures are displayed on each platform. It is also common to see just one platform (the top platform) with two dolls – the emperor and the empress.
White Day is, as far as I know, an event celebrated only in Japan. On March 14th, a month after Valentine’s Day, men are expected to give back to women in twice or thrice the amount of whatever they received on Valentine’s Day. For some men, it is “mendoukusai” (troublesome) so they don’t do it which disappoints women, but, many are still living the culture and makes the heart of women sing in a nice melody.
Although it is called Children’s day, the focus is more on boys. Celebrated every fifth of May, families with boys put up carp streamers known in Japanese as “koinobori” to wish for their son’s health and vitality. Carp symbolizes courage and strength because of its ability to swim against the strong current. Typically, carp streamers are arranged in order from the biggest and colored black to represent the father of the family, red as second to represent the mother, and the smaller carp represents the boys.
Tanabata is celebrated on July 7th (August 7th in some places) based on the legend of the star Altair and the star Vega. Japanese write their wishes on a strip of colored paper and hang it on a bamboo.
Celebrated on July 13-15 or August 13-15 in Japan, Obon is a Buddhist custom where it is believed that the spirits of ancestors are said to return home. To welcome the spirits, families lit lanterns called “mukaebi” on the eve of 13th and “okoribi” on the eve of 16th to send the spirits back to their graves. The highlight is the Obon dance, a traditional dance which vary according to regions. People in yukata (summer kimono) gather (usually in the community center or parks) and dance in a circle following the simple rhythm of taiko (Japanese drums.) Anybody can join and so I did.
In the middle of September, Japanese enjoy viewing the full moon while eating rice cakes. This event is also known as Jugoya. Around this time in Autumn, the moon is big and bright and according to Japanese legends a rabbit pounding rice cake can be seen in the moon. It is also the time to celebrate the good harvest.
This is a celebration for children aged seven, five and three. Girls celebrate at the age of three and seven, while boys celebrate at the age of three and five. Parents take their children in kimono to shrines and offer prayers for the children’s health and good fortune.