Every country on Earth have annual festivals that are both celebrated internationally and domestically. They are a way to thank something or someone throughout the country in various ways, grouping up together to make a good time for the visitors and participants alike. The results are often marvelous and due to variations from city to city and even smaller cities and villages, each locality serves a unique take on the yearly tradition that one country may house and highlight. But what kind of festivals are there in Japan? There are, in a short answer, plenty. And more than one (if not all) have been taken to the studios for animation and witnessed for us worldwide. And it's kinda clever now that Christmas is just around the corner! :D So, before we start exploring and learning a bit about the Japanese culture, I would like to thank you guys for making these post that I do a legit and good reason for as to why I put down my time and making sure that you enjoy the things that I write about. So thanks. This could not be possible without you :* Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
The Focus of this Post
I'll be focusing mainly on the events that are known throughout the entire country of Japan and have a significant impact on the overall population. This may or may not include smaller local festivals that are there for traditional purposes and require that the exact geographical position or community of a smaller village to celebrate. And of course, a festival or two of greater significance might have been overlooked. Call for one in the comments below and I might add it in later for future readers to learn and enjoy :) And we'll start chronologically from the start of the year! :D Disclaimer: I have never lived, attended or experienced the festivals and events that takes place in Japan (I have, however, been briefly in Japan). So, I would like to thank Wikipedia and several other sources for making this post possible XD
New Years (正月 Shogatsu)
Date: December 31st - January 3rd
Being the staple of the calendar in Japan, the New Years are taken very seriously, as the day before makes time for cleaning the house, debts being paid off and the traditional food Osechi being prepared or bought. The food itself is very similar to the regular bento, but uses boxes called jūbako to differentiate from the regular bento-boxes but behave and are used in the same way (as you can stack them). There are plenty of variations of Osechi's, ranging from meals consisting of fish, soybeans, seaweed, omellete and, yes, rice. Meanwhile, homes are also decorated, families gather and visiting shrines and temples is very common (as it is requisite to do so). In these shrines, at midnight, the Buddhist temples all over Japan ring their bells that should be present at the shrine to call upon the gods, spirits and fortune. A total of 108 times shall a ringing from the bell be heard. There are also "special" bells, like "The Watched Night Bell" (a major attraction), located in Tokyo where they ring it 107 times on the 31st of December and only once when Midnight has passed. Why 108? Well, 108 symbolizes the amount of wordly desires and sins regarding sense and feelings in every Japanese citizen. The ringings are a way to get rid of all the cleanse and renew oneself for the coming year. And it is almost customary for people to stay up all night and eat buckwheat noodles called "Toshikoshi soba" at the moment of New Years's Eve. There is also another "New Year's" which celebrates the first full moon of the year (typically around January 15th). It is mainly celebrated through rites and prayers for a fortunate and healthy harvest for the year to come.
The Doll Festival (雛祭り Hinamatsuri)
Date: March 3
A festival which mainly focusing on families praying for happiness, prosperity and good fortune to their girls and helping ensuring their growth being healthy and beautifully. Celebrated in either the family's houses or at the seashore, the root of the festival stems from warding of evil spirits harming the young girls. The girls themselves put on their best kimonos and visit friends' homes and occasional shrines. The homes are also set up for hina-ningyō (these being the dolls). A regular set as a doll representing: Emperor, Empress, Attendants and Musicians in traditional court dress. And this being a religious event, it is said that having the dolls still up for display past March 4th will result in a late marriage for the daughter, leading to the dolls being immediately taken down after the festival is over due to superstition. The food often eaten at the time are hishimochi (diamond-shaped rice cakes) and shirozake (rice malt with sake) and the dolls themselves are considered a collector's item if manufactured by the right dude XD
Cherry Blossom Festival (花見 Hanami)
Date: The Month of April
There are too many smaller and various forms of the festival that occurs throughout the month and in different locations in Japan, that the entire month is held as a whole month of festival (and the excitement is spread throughout the month as well). These events are held by the shrines and it's main focus is (if you couldn't figure it out) flowers! This is the month where picnics, excursions and gatherings around the Sakura-trees occur and the celebratory practices variey from city to city and even area to area! Drinking parties and smaller groups that watch in delight as the colours of flowers are practiced through literature, dance and fine arts (and the flower itself). Ikebana (flower arrangement) is also a popular part of Japanese culture and is still practiced by many people today. "Normal" folk would other than the previous mentioned have games, folk songs, flower dispays, rides, parades, concerts, kimono shows, booths with food and other things, beauty pageant and religious ceremonies during the festivals. Families go out during weekends to see the cherry blossoms, and participate in the many festivals and activities. Did you know that the word Sakura had differences in language (a topic for another day, maybe @poojas wants to do a collab?)? In the Nara Period (710-794), it was known as "ume"-blossoms and was subsequently replaced by "Sakura" in the Heian Period (794-1185) when it attracted more attention as hanami (the name of the festival) became synonymous with the word Sakura. Henceforth, in both waka and haiku, "sakura" meant "flowers". (pls don't make me cry, Shiagtsu wa Kimi no Uso...)
The Star Festival (七夕 Tanabata)
Date: July 7 / August 5-8
Originating from the chinese Qixi Festival, the Star Festival (aka: Evening of the Seventh) celebrates the meeting of the deities Orihime and Hikoboshi. According to legend, our galaxy Milky Way separated these two lovers from each other as they are represented by the stars Vega and Altair respectively. The stars align themselves only once every year, allowing the lovers to finally meet even for a brief moment in time on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month of the lunisolar calendar. Since it, however, varies from region to region in the country and year to year, the first festivites are held on the 7th of July in the Gregorian calendar. The dates and festivals variey between the 7th of July all towards the 5th of August. The name Tanabata comes from a weaving maiden who comes from a Japanese legend, as she was believed to be making the clothes for the gods. Celebration happens through the traditional festivities but the most common practice is writing down (romantic) wishes and aspiriations through poetry on long and narrow strips of coloured paper and hanging them from bamboo branches along with other small ornaments for the gods themselves. There's also a traditional Tanabata song: Sasa no ha sara-sara Nokiba ni yureru Ohoshi-sama kira-kira Kingin sunago Goshiki no tanzaku watashi ga kaita Ohoshi-sama kirakira sora kara miteru (The bamboo leaves rustle, shaking away in the eaves. The stars twinkle on the gold and silver grains of sand. The five-colour paper strips I have already written. The stars twinkle, they watch us from heaven.)
The Japanese Floating Lantern Festival (灯籠流し Tōrō nagashi)
Date: July 19
A traditional and fitting way to end the Star Festival, the event is practiced through the use of lanterns as they are lit and set afloat to a river, lake, sea or other water-bodied areas at the brink of night. The light itself is intented to guide the way for deceased family members' spirits and usually, the person who lets the lantern go will write a small message on the side of the lantern to the spirits in the water. Why lanterns? Well, in Japanese folk-lore, fire-flies are thought to be the souls of the dead, and often being present around highly humiditated areas, the souls often resided closely to water. The lantern serves as a way to break the dark of the murky waters at night, making the effect of a small light for anyone to follow in the dark. It's slow pace and speed allows all spirits to be guided to the after-life and bring peace to a family members spirit and soul.
7-5-3 (七五三 Shichi-Go-San)
Date: November 15 (or the nearest weekend, not a national holiday)
The Seven-Five-Three festival is a sort of "rite of passage" for the younglings where three- and seven-year-old girls and three- and five-year-old boys visit a shrine in traditional clothing. This also comes with that many people buy a chitose-ame, a candy that are sold at the shrine and is named in english "thousand-year candy" (literally). The festival started through superstition that the children of these ages and gender were prone for bad luck and were needed divine protection from the gods through the shrines. Today, a more modern practice of the day is through photography and is considered the day for the parent to take pictures of their beloved sons and daughters.
Preparation for the New Year and Year-end fair
Date: late December
Jumping over Christmas, the in-offical event for preparing for the New Year was originally a way to greet a deity of the oncoming year. As mentioned before, families clean their houses and put up special altar, known as toshidana ("year shelf") where they pile the altar with kagamimochi (flat, round rice cakes), sake (rice wine), persimmons, and other foods in honor of the toshigami. A fair is also held at localities such as shrines, temples or local neighborhoods as way to prepare for the new year holidays as decorations and sundry goods are sold. It was originally meant as a window of oppertunity for farmers, fishers and mountain-dwellers to resupply and exchange goods and buy clothes and other necessities for preparations of the new year.
Yes, I MUST have missed some festivals. Please, no need to be angry :D We need to get ourselves into the Christmas Spirit and we don't wanna let Santa know that you've been all good and jolly all the way up until this point where you have been naughty and bad, right? ;) Now, this Card is a part of my own series where I put up more anime-related posts such as discussing, analyzing and showing you parts of Anime that makes an Anime an Anime! Every topic from the technical aspects, core elements and even entire shows are collected there so make sure you check out and follow "Why anime?" collection for more posts about and around anime! :D Please feel free to comment your thoughts on the topic or suggest one! :D And if you want to leave a direct feedback, you're more than welcome to message me :)
And a like on this post would be very much appreciated :* And send your happy blessings and wishes in the comments below as well :* Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Jolly Wishes from VoidX