Although there are many special holidays, New Year's Day is the most important holiday in Japan. Schools close for about 2weeks of winter holiday before and after New Year's Day. Many Japanese have family gatherings to their hometown, and enjoy a traditional meal called 'Osechi'. Osechi contains small portions of several food which each of them has a special meaning such as long life or wealth.
On New Year's Day, many Japanese visit shrines and temples. The year's first visit is called 'Hatsumode' and people wish for their best in that year. Some visit local shrines and temples, but it is becoming more popular to visit major shirines and temples.
Setsubun is on February 03 and even though it is not a national holiday, many people celebrate this day. On this day, you will see people shouting and throwing soybeans. It is called Mamemaki and is a very traditional way of celebrating Setsubun. People throw roasted soybeans out the door or at the person wearing an Oni(demon) mask. People shout 'Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!' meaning 'Demons Out! Happinesses In!'. Mamemaki is done to swipe away all evil spirits and bad luck from family members. To bring in the luck, people eat number of soybeans corresponding to their age.
Other customs involving Setsubun is eating Norimaki(sushi roll). In western Japan, it is traditional to face the lucky direction and eat Norimaki without saying a word. It is said that people who finish Norimaki will have better health and good luck.
Girl's Festival, called Hinamatsuri, is held on March 3 to wish girls' successful, healthy and happy life. On this day, families with girls usually display dolls wearing ancient kimono. Displays have up to seven tiers with dolls, peach flowers, lights and some food. At the top, there are the emperor and the empress, then there are some other dolls with decorations.
It is said that if families forgot to put away the dolls after Hinamatsuri, girls would have trouble marrying in the future.
You will be able to see a lot of food and decorations for Hinamatsuri from mid February at supermarkets. People usually enjoy amazake(sweet, non-alcoholic sake), arare(sweet crackers), chirashizushi(sushi rice topped with raw fish, egg, sweetened shiitake mushroom etc...).
Many people visitAwashima Shrine to see traditional event 'Hina-nagashi'. Hina and other dolls brought from all over the country are put on boat and sent to the sea to take bad spirits and troubles from girls.
In April, many people enjoy Hanami(flower viewing). You will be able to enjoy different kinds of cherry blossoms in each city. Cherry blossoms bloom from the warmest to coldest area in Japan. Okinawa is considered to be the warmest place in Japan, so if you would like to see Japan's first bloom, this is where to go. Because Hanami is one of the most popular events in Japan, weather reporters annouce blossom forecast each year.
People visit parks with food and drinks for Hanami. You can enjoy Hanami with night illuminations at some places.
Some towns are famous for cherry blossoms. There are even bus tours held for viewing cherry blossoms in this season.
Tango no sekku (Boy's Festival), on May 5th, is to celbrate boys' courage and strength. This is also the day to wish their health and happiness. Large, brightly coloured carp-like windsocks made of cloth, called Koinobori, are hung outside houses of families with boys. They seem swimming in the air when they are hung outside and filled with wind. A windsock is flown for each son in the family; the largest one is for the oldest son, and the others range down in sizes. The carp is the symbol, because they are able to swim upstream against the flow of the water and considered to be very strong and powerful.
Some families also display minuature warrior dolls, helmets, armor and swords in their houses. You will be able to see those displays at department stores if you have no chance to visit Japanese families with boys.
Festival is called 'Matsuri' in Japan. Most of matsuri are held at shrine or temples, but some are held by local communities. Matsuri is usually held for good harvest. Almost every community has festival, mostly from June to August.
Please join as many festivals as you can in summer!
Enjoy the exciting dance festival held in Hokkaido. People from all over the world compete to be the best team with their own choreography, music, traditional but unique costumes and makeups.
Known as one of the three largest festivals in the Tohoku region, it attracts a lot of tourists from all over the wolrd. It is a festival to compete Nebuta which is a float of a brave warrior figure.
You can enjoy a parade of 100 horses with very colourful harnesses and lots of bells. Horses are treasured in Iwate Prefecture and it is known as a horse breeding district.
About 10,000 dancers holding hanagasa (hats decorated with artificial flowers) perfom in Yamagata City.
Yosakoi Matsuri is where to go if you would like to see something different. With very energitic and highly performanced dancers, Yosakoi dancing is a combination of Japanese traditional dance and modern dance.
Enjoy fireworks you have never seen before!
Three Biggest Fireworks in Japan
'Tanabata' meaning evening of Seventh, is a Japanese Star Festival. This festival is to celebrate the only once a year meeting of separated lovers, Prince Hikoboshi and Princess Orihime. They are separated by Milky Way throughout the year, and they are allowed to meet each other only on the Seventh day of the Seventh lunar month on the lunisolar calendar.
Japanese celebrate this day by writing wishes on small pieces of paper and hang them on bamboo branches.
'Obon' is one of the most important traditions in Japan. During Obon, Japanese pray for the departed spirits of one's ancestors. Because people believe that spirits come back to their home to reunite during obon, houses are cleaned and many food and flowers are held in front of family altar.
Obon has been celebrated in Japan for more than 500years. The events are usually held with a dance, known as Bon-Odori. Each region has different styles, music and dances, though people dance lining up in a circle in typical obon.
Moon viewing, called Tsukimi, is held on August 15th in the lunar calender, which is in September or October on solar calender. It is said that the moon on this night is the most beautiful and brightest of the year.
The original form of Tsukimi is to pray for a rich harvest of rice. Custom on Tsukimi Day is offering sake and susuki(Japanese pampas grass) to the moon, and eating tsukimi dango(rice dumplings) called tsukimi dango. On this day, kids are usually told the story of the rabbit living in the moon. They look for rabbits making tsukimi dango when there is a full moon.
Enjoy beautiful leaves changing colours in autumn! Momijigari means 'hunting red leaves', but the word actually refers to 'viewing autumn leaves'. Like Japanese go to see cherry blossoms in spring, they also enjoy going to fields and mountains to see autumn leaves. As opposite of cherry blossoms, leaves start changing colours from coldest to warmest area in Japan. Koyo-zensen(Momiji-gari forecast) is officially announced everyday, and famous places are very crowded with a large number of tourists.
Enjoy viewing autumn leaves from tram!
Enjoy viewing 3,000 maple trees changing colours!
Enjoy the view from the top of the mountain of 289m!
Enjoy viewing 300 large and small lakes from a 3.6km tracking rail with many kinds of maple leaves.
Enjoy a beautiful tracking trail with the view of maple trees and falls!
Enjoy the view of mountains covered with a lot of colors.
Seven-Five-Three called 'Shichi-Go-San' is a celebration to wish the growth of children when girls turn 3 and 7years old and boys turn 5years old. Most girls wear kimono and boys wear hakama.Chitose Ame meaning thousand-year-candy is a long, thick candy which symbolizes healthy growth and longlife. The candy comes in a bag that carries illustrations of cranes and turtles - two animals that are symbols of long life.
New Year's Eve is called 'Omisoka' in Japan. It is the day to prepare for the next year, and people usually eat toshikoshi soba (passing year soba noodle) on that day. Soba noodles are thick and long which symbolize long life. It is also said that because soba noodles are easily cut, people can forget unfortunate events occured in that year.
Japanese usually clean up an entire house before the upcoming year. It is called 'Oosoji', and it refers to spring cleaning in North America. After every duty for the year is done, people relax and listen to bells rung at temples all over the country. The bell is called 'Joya no kane' and is rung 108times to cleanse the listners of the 108 mortal desires.