What is Immersion？ > Numazu, Japan > Japanese Holidays
New Year's (Shogatsu)
One of the most important, if not THE most important, holidays on the Japanese calendar, New Year's is celebrated for days... both before and after January 1rst!!! The Japanese celebrate many "firsts" of the new year... among them, the first shrine visit, the first sunrise (Hatsu hinode), even the first calligraphy of the New Year (Kakizome)!!! Starting just before midnight, temple bells are rung 108 times (8 times in the old year and 100 times in the new), for the 108 sins of the Buddhist belief. New Year's postcards (Nengajo) are delivered by the billions, usually decorated with pictures of the animal representing the new year, according to the Chinese zodiac calendar. Families gather together and welcome the deity of the incoming year, (toshigami), with feasts of traditional foods including zoni, a soup containing mochi (the pounded rice traditionally served at the New Year). Traditionally, games were played, such as hanetsuki, a badminton-like game played with a paddle called a hagoita; nowdays, the hagoita are sold as decorative items... many of the traditional games are fading out of the popular culture. Children receive money in specially decorated envelopes (there are envelopes just for weddings, funerals, etc., too)... a typical child might receive the equivalent of about $250.
Coming of Age Day
One of several Japanese national holidays related to age, January 15th is Coming of Age Day. Japanese young people become full-fledged adults at the age of 20, when they can vote, as well as choose to smoke and/or drink; in addition they assume the responsibilities of adulthood. Families spend huge amounts of money on traditional clothing, photos, etc. for this day; the ceremony itself, held for all those who turned 20 that year, lasts less than an hour.
March 3rd of each year is "Hina-matsuri" or Girl's Festival (you may also hear it called Doll Day, or some similar name- I did). On this day families with girl children invite friends & relatives over, have special food & drinks, and wish for the girls to grow healthy & beautiful. A girl's first Girl's Festival is called her "hatzu-zekku"; it is popular for the girl's grandparents to present her with her first set of "hina"-dolls, which is an elaborate (and expensive) set of up to 7 tiers, with up to 15 dolls, and small furniture & lamps. On the top tier is displayed the Emperor and Empress, with the Emperor on the left as you are looking at the display. Girls also display all the dolls that have been given to them to celebrate "Hina-matsuri". Originally this was an ancient purification ritual, where people would rub paper images (hitogata) on themselves, transferring their impurities to the image, then letting them float away in the river. In the Heian Era (794-1191), noble's daughters would decorate and play with the paper dolls, then throw them in the river. There is still a festival in this area in which this is done. The sets of "hina"-dolls which are displayed now can be traced back to the Edo Era (1603-1867). They are NOT thrown in the river (!) and are displayed each year.
Vernal and Autumnal Equinox
The vernal equinox (the first day of spring) is celebrated as a national holiday, as is the autumnal equinox (first day of fall). This is a day when Buddhists hold "Higan" services, which are memorial services for their ancestors' souls. "Higan", meaning "on the shore of the other side of the river", is the Buddhist's eternal paradise, like the Christian's heaven. Families make offerings on their Buddhist altars, and visit the family graves. The grave site is swept clean, flowers (seasonal flowers, with no thorns) are placed, incense burned, and prayers are said. Buddhists use prayer beads, called "juzu", which are used in much the same way as Catholics use rosary beads.
The week of April 29th through May 5th is known as Golden Week. During this week there are three national holidays; it seems that there are local festivals in many areas, too. April 29th is Greenery Day, a national holiday. It used to be celebrated as an emperor's birthday, but since his death, has been continued to honor his interest in the flora of his country. It is similar to Arbor Day, but more important. Here in Iwakuni, it is also the day of the annual Kintai Bridge Festival. May 3rd is Constitution Memorial Day, also a national holiday. May 5th is Children's Day. This holiday used to be known as Boy's Festival Day; these days, it is known as Children's Day. This amazes me. I can just see the public outcry in the states if, for instance, Mother's Day was left as a holiday in honor of mothers, while Father's Day was changed to Parents' Day, to honor both fathers and mothers!!! Yeah, right! Yet, this is essentially what has happened here. The traditional decorations still emphasize the male child, though. The carp windsocks, called koi-nobori, represent strength, since the Japanese admire the carps' ability to swim upstream, against the current. Warrior dolls, called musha-ningyo, are also displayed, or the warrior's helmet (kabuto) or sword may be displayed alone. Another festival that occurs during this week is a Kite Flying festival, from May 3-5. Since there are so many national holidays in such a short time, many Japanese take (or are given) the entire Golden Week off of work. This week and New Years are the most difficult times to travel in Japan, for this reason.
Respect for the Aged Day
Another of Japan's holidays associated with age, this one honors the elderly. On September 15 there is a national holiday, established in 1966, to celebrate long life, and show respect for the elders of society.
October 10th is a national holiday, too. This is a day to promote a healthy mind and body- in this spirit people may get physical exams, participate in sports meets, etc. Schools sponsor field meets, and American schools (including MC Perry) are sometimes invited to join the festivities!
Translates as 7-5-3; this festival, celebrated on November 15th is a time when boys (aged 3 and 5) and girls (ages 3 and 7) are taken by their parents to a local shrine to give thanks for their health and growth so far, and to pray for their future. Children wear their traditional finery, and may be given "thousand year candy", a special treat!
Emperor Akihito, the present Emperor was born Dec. 23, 1933. His birthday has been celebrated as a National Holiday since 1990. Emperor Akihito is the 125th descendant in a direct line from the first emperor, Jimmu, who ascended to the throne in 660 BC. Emperor Showa, the present emperor's father renounced his divinity in 1946; until then, Japanese custom held that the Emperor was a direct descendant of the sun goddess, Amaterasu-o-mikami. Emperor Akihito's son, the Crown Prince Naruhito, married Masako Owada in 1993. She was a career diplomat, educated at Harvard and Oxford, who gave up her career to become the Crown Princess.
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