January 1 – 3 marks the New Year’s Holiday and celebrates the beginning of a new year. Also called O-sho-gatsuThe Japanese spelling is おしょうがつ and the Kanji for this word is お正月.. New Year’s Day or Gan-jitsuThe Japanese spelling is がんじつ and the Kanji for this word is 元日. is the first day of this holiday and is generally spent with family, but the second and third days are spent with friends and business acquaintances. Of course, this varies by family. Significant symbols used in marking the New Year’s season include
- Kagamimochi, flat round shaped rice cakes made as offerings to the gods during this period. Kagami means mirror, and signifies the reflection one makes of themselves. The circular shape the mochi takes, signifies the roundness one strives for, in a sense, striving not to be confrontational, but harmonious with others.
- Kadomatsu, a pine needles and bamboo decoration, which are placed on either or both sides of the front entrance to the home.
- Shimekazari, which is twisted rope made from straw accompanied by white strips of paper hung from the rope.
- Shape of noodles, signifying long life and health in the coming year.
It is common to stay up through the whole night starting at midnight by listening to temple bells that chime 108 times and ending by greeting the first dawn of the new year. The first morning meal is preceded by drinking a sweet liquered wine called tosoSweet Japanese wine
The Japanese spelling is とそ and the kanji for this word is 屠蘇. in order to protect one from becoming ill during the year.
Exchanging of New Years postcards or NengajōNengajō are New Years Postcards.The Japanese spelling is ねんがじょう and the kanji is 年賀状. The custom of sending postcards during the New Years celebration period began in the late 1800s. The post office guarantees they will be delivered to recipients on January 1 as long as it was mailed between December 15 and December 28 and has a nenga mark (年賀). Nengajō sold by the post office include a lottery number printed on the card, which is shown at the bottom of the picture on the right as 818556. If the number is picked, it can be redeemed for a prize ranging from a sheet of stamps to electronic gadgets.
Coming of Age Day or Seijin no HiThe Japanese spelling is せいじんのひ and the kanji is 成人の日. honors those who have reached their 20th birthday. It was originally celebrated every January 15 but was changed to the second Monday in January since 2000 as a result of the Happy Monday System passed into law that year.
SetsubunThe Japanese spelling is せつぶん and the kanji is 節分., a traditional ceremony to dispel demons, is observed by scattering beans, called mamemaki, to drive away the demons. The beans are scattered inside and outside of one’s home or place of work, chanting “oni was soto, fuku wa uchi”, which means “out with demons, in with good luck”. A form of praying for health and prosperity during the new year is made by eating the same number of beans as the person’s age.
National Foundation Day or Kenkoku Kinen no Hi commemorates the first emperor of Japan, Jimmu.
Valentine’s Day – Women give gifts to men on this day. Men reciprocate on White Day.
Hina Matsuri is the Doll Festival, in which families with girls celebrate over a meal with hina dolls set up in the home. The dolls dressed in costumes from the Heian period (794 – 1185) include the Dairi or emperor, Hina or empress, three noble court ladies in waiting, five musicians, attendants, guardsmen and other decorations. Food offerings include rice-cakes and sake.
Vernal Equinox Day or Shumbun no Hi celebrates the middle of a seven day Buddhist memorial service known as higane, in which families gather and pay their respects at the family grave.
The month of April signals the start of the cherry blossum festivals or ohanami. This is a very social period that starts in the warmer climates of Japan and progresses to Hokkaido by May.
Greenery Day or Midori no Hi celebrates and shows appreciation for nature. This day was celebrated as the birthday of Emperor Showa prior to 1989.
May 3Constitution Memorial Day or Kenpo Kinenbi commemorates the Japanese constitution that was recognized in 1947.May 5Children’s Day or Kodomo no Hi is a day to pray for the happiness and health of Japan’s children. This day also recognizes families with boys, who display warrior dolls called Gogatsu ningyo or May dolls, in suits of armor and fly carp-shaped streamers made of paper or cloth outside their home. The carp represents the strength and perseverance boys need to overcome obstacles.
Ochugen – Summer gift giving season.
Tanabata Festival, also known as the star festival is based on a Chinese legend involving the heavenly stars, Vega (Weaver Star) and Altair (Cowherd Star). The two stars were permitted to meet only once per year, otherwise they would incur the wrath of this legends heavenly king. This festival is celebrated by inscribing one’s wishes on a narrow strip of paper called tanzaku and affixing it to a bamboo branch.
Bon is a festival celebrating the spirits of ancestors. In some areas, Bon is celebrated from August 13-15. It is most customary for families to gather during this period, creating “sold out” conditions in most transportation systems. This holiday is often referred to as O-bon.
Marine Day or Umi no Hi thanks the sea for it’s gifts and pray for Japan’s continued prosperity as a maritime nation.
Respect for the Aged Day or Keiro no Hi honors Japan’s elderly.
Shuubun no Hi celebrates the automn equinox and marks the middle of a 7 day Buddhist memorial service known as higan-e.
Sports Day or Taiiku no Hi promotes good physical and mental health through sports.
Culture Day or Bunka no Hi to promote the ideals set forth in the constitution via cultural activities.
Oseibo which is a day to mark year end gift giving.
sichi, go, san or 3, 5, 7 is a day to take children ages 3, 5 and 7 to shrines to pray for their health. This day was chosen because it equals the sum of 3, 5 and 7. Children are given sweet candy called chitose-ame, which is a stick colored red and white as a form of bring luck.
ii fufu no hi which is a day that couples exchange gifts.
Labor Thanksgiving Day or Kinro Kansha no Hi which is used to thank one another for their efforts during the year. It became a national holiday in 1948 and is a day for neighbors to thank each other for work done and the results achieved throughout the year. Thanksgiving Day is a modern name for the ancient ritual called Niinamesai which means Harvest Festival. This celebration called for the Emperor to offer freshly harvested rice to the gods and the name was changed after World War II, to Labor Thanksgiving Day in order to mark the new fundamental human rights guaranteed to the workers.
bonenkai or end of the year party is enjoyed by business associates and friends to forget the old year and prepare for the new year.
Emperor’s birthday Tenno Tanjobi which marks the birthday of the current emperor, Akihito.
Oseibo – Winter gift giving season, to express one’s gratitude for the previous year.
oomisoka is New Year’s Eve and the time to eat toshikoshi-soba or buckwheat noodles and stay awake until midnight listening to the 108 rings of a nearby temple bell also called joya-no-kane, a ritual performed to rid us of the 108 evil passions.