Japan has plenty of festivals and almost every other day, there is something or the other happening in Japan. It makes us think Japanese culture is truly a culture of celebration. Japanese festivals are often based around an event with food stalls, entertainment and carnival games to keep everyone entertained. Usually, they are based around a shrine or temple, sometimes with ‘hanabi (fireworks)’, traditional dancing and contests. February is the month of snow festivals and the arrival of spring in Japan. Take a look at 10 festivals celebrated in the month of February!
Setsubun or the Bean Throwing Festival marks the coming of spring according to the old Japanese calendar. It is celebrated on the day before ‘Risshun’ i.e., the first day of spring in the old lunar calendar. On this day, roasted soybeans are thrown with chants to drive out evil. In ancient times, it was believed that this festival would help prevent ogres from entering the house. It is believed that evils are warded off by throwing beans and thus good fortune might come. This festival happens everywhere in Japan at all shrines. Beans are good for health too.
Dates: February 3 or 4
Access: Nationwide; Nearby Shrine
Every year on three particular days, 3000 lanterns are lit up at Kasuga Taisha Shrine in Nara. This event has more than 500 years of history. The candles lit up on a dark night illuminating the nearby river and the shrine will surely make you feel mystified. There are different lanterns in the area of the shrine decorated to mark the coming of spring according to the old lunar calendar. On this day, beans are sold as good luck charms.
Dates: February 3, August 14 and 15
February, in general, marks the arrival of spring in Japan and many styles of festivals happen everywhere. A farm festival signaling the arrival of spring is conducted through dancing and prayer. Dancers, flutists, drummers, and singers form groups and parade around the city. They all wear long hats called ‘Eboshi’. This is a festival for rich harvests celebrated especially in Aomori prefecture.
Dates: February 17-20
There is a Buddhist sect in Japan named the ‘Agon Shu’. They conduct a festival called the ‘Hoshi Matsuri’ or ‘Fire Rites Festival’ in Yamashina, in eastern Kyoto. It involves the lighting of two huge bonfires with millions of prayer sticks called ‘gomagi’. There is a huge procession of relics of Buddha.
Dates: 11 February
Saidai-ji Eyo Hadaka Matsuri a.ka. the Naked Festival is a mysterious night festival where naked men compete for good luck charms. It is one of the three most eccentric festivals in Japan. Thousand of men wearing loin cloths struggle with one another for a pair of lucky sacred sticks thrown into the crowd by a priest from an above window. Anyone who gets the sticks luckily and thrusts them straight in a wooden box called the ‘masu’ which is heaped with rice, is called a lucky man. It is not easy to catch the sticks. This festival attracts thousands of spectators. On the day before the festival, there is a small festival also with the name ‘Eyo Yoi Matsuri festival’ which happens in the evening. During this festival, school boys and ladies compete for rice cakes.
Dates: Third Saturday of February
This festival happens in Yokote city in Akita prefecture and is known as Yokote Kamakura Snow Festival. A Kamakura is an igloo or a room made of snow. On this occasion, some hundreds of igloos are built and are lit up with candle lights. One can visit any igloo and have a drink with the families celebrating the festival. Generally, some sweet fermented rice brew is served.
Dates: February 15 -16
This festival is held in Katsuyama, Fukui prefecture where traditional music is played almost continuously on 12 different stages set up in different locations. The music is played to showcase talent from each part of the town. The highlight of this festival is that the town’s new year decorations are burned at the closing ceremony, ‘dondo-yaki’.
Dates: Last Weekend of February
This festival needs no introduction. During the festival, Sapporo city turns into a snow museum and attracts thousands of tourists from all around the world. It happens in different spots across the city but the main venue is the city center, Odori Park. There is also an international snow statue contest where teams of snow sculptors from around the world contend to win. The gigantic snow statues and buildings lit up with colorful lights make anyone spellbound.
Dates: 7 days in the Second week of February
Yuki Toro also known as Snow Lanterns are snow sculptures in the shape of traditional Japanese stone lanterns. It happens in Hirosaki Park which is in Aomori prefecture in northern Japan. Many yuki toro and miniature igloos together with the snow covered castle mystify visitors to the park with lights.
Dates: February 9-12 (in 2018)
In Japan, the ages 25 and 42 are considered unlucky. Many men of these ages wear loin cloths, run, and have water thrown over them for the purpose of washing away any bad luck. They run around the entire town like this. In recent years, many men of other ages who feel unlucky also started participating in the festival. It happens in Iwate prefecture.
Dates: 11 February
Be sure check the dates again with your nearest tourist office in case of changes in the events. The dates can change sometimes due to weather conditions. The weather in February can be too windy, chilly or have sudden snowfalls. That is why, it is advised to check the dates beforehand but usually the dates mentioned above are the regular times for these events. Come to Japan and indulge yourself in the celebrations in the mystic month of February.