Year's holidays (Shogatsu) are the most important of all
the annual celebrations. This holiday is traditionally a
time for thanking the gods (kami) who look over the
harvests as well as for welcoming the spirits of ancestors
who protect their families. To welcome these gods
and spirits, the Japanese have a tradition of hanging pine
branch and bamboo decorations on each sides of a house's
entrance and hanging straw rope decorations. At the
beginning of the year prayers are said for a rich and
bountiful harvest in the coming years and appreciation is
expressed to these spirits and gods. As with some
other countries, it is typically the time to make new
year's resolutions and plans for the upcoming year.
time people get in touch with old friends, acquaintances,
and family by sending out greeting cards (nengajo).
In 1998, it was estimated that 4 billion cards were send
out during the New Year's holidays!
(First Visits of the Year to Shrines and Temples)
New Year's holidays a family visit to a Shinto shrine or
Buddhist temple is usually on the agenda. This is
when the families pray for the safety of their family and
possessions as well as to pray for a rich harvest.
Japanese are traditionally to visit a shrine that is in a
"favorable direction" from the visitor's home.
Most people visit the Meiji Jingu Shrine during this time
(approximately 3.45 million in 1998) with the next largest
showing at the kawasaki Haishi Temple in Kanagawa
Prefecture (3.19 million).
(Present of Money for Children)
tradition is the giving of money to children (otoshidama)
from parents and relatives. For this reason, many
children look forward to the New Year's holidays!
The gift of money for junior and high school students in
recent years has been about 5,000 to 10,000 yen per gift.
This means that after all the relatives give money, it can
quickly add up to several tens of thousands of yen for
popularity of electronic games and other modern
entertainment, the old tradition of flying kites or
spinning tops during the holidays has lost it's appeal.
Some other activities also included card games that test a
person's ability to recognize poems from Hundred Poems
by One Hundred Poets and a board game similar to
the lunar calendar in use before 1873, in which the
numbering of the months was about one and half months
behind that of the modern solar calendar, the coming of
spring was designated as the third or fourth day of the
second month. Some of the Setsubun observances that
were held on this day still take place on February 3 or 4,
even though this coincides with the coldest period of
winter. For example, there is the ritual of opening
the doors and windows of houses and expelling bad luck and
evil demons by tossing beans into the air while saying
"fuku wa uchi, oni wa soto" (fortune in and
demons out). It is also said that one will keep
healthy be eating on this day the number of beans
equivalent to one's age. This was originally an
observance that took place in the imperial court on the
last day of the lunar year to symbolize the sweeping away
of bad spirits and winter cold and gloom, as well as to
welcome the cheer of a new and bright spring.
This is a
festival devoted to the young girls in a family and occurs
on March 3rd. It is at this time that families pray
for the health and happiness of their daughters. A
collection of dolls is displayed on this day with them
wearing traditional court attire. With the
collection is an offering consisting of white sake,
diamond-shaped rice cakes and dry rice cake pellets along
with peach blossoms. Ancient beliefs about ritual
purification are behind the hina-matsuri observance.
It was believed, at one time, that a person's misdeeds
could be washed away and purified in ritual taking place
next to streams. Paper dolls were later used in the
rituals, and the dolls changed during the Edo Period
(1600-1868) to become the style that is seen today.
Higan (Vernal Equinox Day)
observance of spring higan coincides with the period of
seven days centering on the spring equinox, around March
21. At this time, people visit family graves, pay
their respects to the souls of their ancestors, and ask
Buddhist priests to perform sutra-readings in their honor.
A similar observance known as autumn higan is held during
the one-week period centering on the autumnal equinox,
around September 23.
Late March or
early April is the time when the cherry blossoms in Japan
begin to bloom. The Japanese like to have picnics
under the cherry trees, a tradition that has occurred
among commoners since the Edo period.
begin the new school year in April, so it can be a rather
stressful time. Since this time coincides with the
beginning of Japan's fiscal year, new employees typically
begin their new jobs now, too. Since there are many
holidays clustered together at the end of April and
beginning of May, many people take a week or ten days off
of work. As a result, this time is called
"Golden Week" for obvious reasons! It is a
time of beautiful weather and is usually spent traveling
to tourist destinations. Not surprisingly, this is a
time that is notorious for traffic jams on the expressways
and crowds in trains and airports.
comes during Golden Week (see above) and falls on May 5.
It is not actually "children's day" but
"boy's day" since it is typically a day set
aside to wish for healthy boys and their future success.
The day is filled with fun activities and special foods
like rice dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaves.
Decorations usually consist of cloth streamers in the
shape of carp and dolls dressed like warriors.
fifth month and especially the fifth day of that month was
felt to be filled with bad luck, this celebration was
developed as annual ritual purification. Now iris
leaves are placed in water for boys to bathe in since the
leaves are thought to have the ability to banish evil as
well as have medicinal properties.