The Many Splendors of Japanese Festivals
There are many festivals that are celebrated throughout the year in Japan. Each has its own meaning and traditions. The Japanese word for festival is matsuri. There are national matsuri and local matsuri. Many of these festivals include a procession of some kind as well as special foods and souvenirs for sale. Some of the festivals you may encounter in Japan include the following:
New Year's Day
This is the biggest national festival in Japan. Special foods are prepared to welcome luck and prosperity into the home for the New Year. People decorate their homes and visit family and friends. Many will visit one to three shrines to celebrate. New Year cards are sent to everyone they know like people in the US do with Christmas cards.
On the second Monday of January, Coming of Age day is celebrated. Also known as Seijin shiki, this holiday celebrates everyone who reaches the age of majority, 20, during the coming year. A ceremony is usually held in the morning at local city offices, and all young adults who live in that area are invited. Officials give speeches to mark the occasion, and all the young adults are given gifts. After the ceremony, most young adults go out to parties.
Doll Festival or Hina Matsuri
This festival is also known as Girls' Festival, and is held on March 3rd. Platforms are set up at homes all over to display dolls of the emperor and empress and all their attendants. A special meal ends the day.
Hanami, or Flower Viewing Festival
Also known as the Cherry Blossom festival, people visit the Shinto shrines to view the blooming trees. Flowers are a large part of Japanese culture, and these celebrations are filled with games, songs, dancing, parades, rides, flower displays, concerts, food and ceremonies.
Boys' Day, or Kodomo no hi
Held on May 5th and incorporating the Iris Festival, Boys' Day was to celebrate attributes of boys just like Girls' Day did with girls. In 1948, however it was rechristened Children's Day, but the qualities that are celebrated, courage and strength, are still masculine qualities. Families display warrior dolls, fly fish kites and eat special rice cakes.
The Star Festival, or Tanabata
The Star Festival takes place on the 7th of July. Based on an old Chinese tale, this holiday is the time to write wishes and romantic thoughts on long strips of paper and hang them on bamboo branches along with other ornaments.
The Bon Festival
This is a Buddhist festival to honor the spirit of the ancestors. It takes place in mid-August. Graves are cleaned up and paths are lighted to guide the spirits home to visit. Lantern floating ends this celebration as messages are placed in paper lanterns that are floated down the river to light the way for the ancestors' spirits as they depart.
7-5-3 Festival or Shichigosan
Held in mid-November, boys who are 3 or 5 and girls who are 5 or 7 are taken to shrines to pray for their safe and healthy futures. This festival is based on the old belief that children of certain ages are prone to bad luck. Children are dressed in traditional clothing and get special treats.