Japanese people keep themselves connected with their history and tradition by celebrating various festivals all year around. Buddhism and Japans indigenous religion Shinto harmoniously co-exist in this country. Every temple and shrine has its own local festival. It is said that no matter which time of year you visit Japan you will get to enjoy one or other festival.
But there are some age old festivals which has deep religious and historical significance, which are part of Japanese beliefs ,very close to people’s heart and celebrated in every household for generations.
Here are Top 10 Classic Japanese Festivals.
New Year –
Unlike other East Asian counties official Japanese New Year has been celebrated according to the Gregorian calendar, on January 1 of each year. Japanese New year celebration is a good mix of Buddhist and Shinto religious practices. Families come together, people visit shrines and temples, celebrate the New Year with special selection of dishes know as ‘Osechi Ryori’ and rice cakes. Each dish symbolizes a wish for the new year. Streets and homes are decorated with kadomatsu, a traditional decoration with pine branches and bamboo stalks and ropes. Red and white are considered auspicious in Japanese culture. Red has a celebratory meaning, white is a holy color. So lot of Red and white is used in the food and other elements of New Year celebration.
Setsubun is celebrated on 3rd or 4th of February every year. An interesting ritual is performed on this day. It is known as ‘Mamemaki’ means ‘Bean Throwing’. People usually throw roasted beans outside their houses praying “Demons out! Luck in!” It is believed that the beans purify the house and keep the evil away .
it is customary to eat these beans afterwards, one for each year of one’s life. Many people celebrate it in nearby shrines or temples by throwing beans in order to chase away evil spirits and disease. Setsubun is celebrated all over Japan with different variation.
Hina Matsuri –
Hina matsuri is festivals of Dolls. Evry year it is celebrated on the third day of march.It is also considered as Girl’s Day or Girls Festival. The Families celebrate and pray for their daughter’s happiness, health and marital bliss. Families with young daughters mark this day by setting up a display of beautiful kimono clad dolls on 5 or 7 tiered platform covered with red felt inside the house. The top tier is for the emperor and the empress and other tiers for courtiers and attendants. Families in some parts of the country release paper dolls into rivers after the festival. The dolls symbolizes their daughters and people pray that these dolls will carry away all the bad luck of their draught’s with them.
Tango-no-sekku or The Boys’ Festival is celebrated on 5th of March every year. Families with sons celebrate and pray on this day for their sons’ strength, happiness and good character by flying carp fish-shaped windsocks called koinobori. The carp is age old symbol of perseverance, strength and determination. Warrior dolls or mock samurai armor with bow and arrows are also displayed at home as a symbol of ambition and strength; to encourage the boys to acquire these qualities.
Hana Matsuri is a festival to celebrate Buddha’s birth anniversary. On April 8 every year a ceremony called Kanbutsu-e (baptism ceremony)is held in every important Buddhist temple to commemorate the Historical day of Buddha’s birth anniversary. Usually a small flower hall is set up in the temple and an infant Buddha statue is placed amidst a plethora of seasonal blooms. Sweet tea (amacha, or hydrangea tea) is poured on the head of the Buddha statue. The sweet tea symbolizes heavenly rain. In Japan the cherry tree bloom at this very time and the flowers are offered to adorn the nativity celebrations.
Nagoshi-no-Oharae is a celebrated every year on Jun 30th.It is an important Shinto purification ritual held in mid of the yearly cycle. Purification ceremonies are conducted in shrines to get rid of sin and impurity. A large sacred ring made of loosely twisted reeds is set up and people walk through it to get purified of any sluggish energy from the first half of the year and to receive fresh energy for successful second half of the year.
Tanabata Matsuri -
‘Tanabata’ or Star festival of Japan is celebrated on 7th of July every year. In some parts of the country it is celebrated on 7th August. It is a traditional belief that two stars Altair and Vega, were lovers who are separated from each other by the Milky Way, reunite once in a year on this very day. If it rains on this day the two will not be able to see each other hence it is believed that both the starts will pray for all the good on this day and if they meet people who ever made a wish on this day will get what they want. So people write their wishes on a piece of colorful paper, and hang it with other decorative paper ornaments to bamboo tree branches placed in backyard or in the entrance of the house, hoping that the wishes will become true. There are also streamers and other decorations all over cities.
Obon is a Buddhist festival. It is celebrated in July and in August in some areas. It is believed that the spirit or soul of ancestors visit the home at this time of the year and Obon is celebrated as tribute to these ancestral spirits. The festival of Obon lasts for three days. Lanterns are lit in front of the houses to guide the spirits back to home. People visit shrines, temples, and family graves during Obon. Variety of food and flowers, incense are offered to the ancestor spirits. At the end of Obon, floating lanterns are put into rivers, lakes and seas in order to guide the spirits back into their mysterious celestial world. Obon is an important festival in Japan and many people head back to their homes towns to celebrate and spend time with families.
This festival is held annually on November 15. The purpose of this festival is to celebrate the growth and well-being of young children. Shichi-go-san literally means Seven-Five-Three. According to East Asian numerology odd numbers such as 3-5-7 are considered lucky. On this day kids aged three, boys aged five, and girls aged seven visits a Shinto shrine with their parents. This is an important day for kids this age and they dress up in beautiful traditional costumes for the first time. Long red and white color candies in bags that are decorated with turtles and cranes are given to the children. It’s believed that whoever eats the candy will have a thousand years of happiness. The crane and the turtle symbolize longevity.
Omisoka is Japanese New Years Eve. On this last day of the year homes are purified and last year’s clutter is removed. Omisoka is also a spiritual event for many as at mid night people visit temples. As mid night approaches, Buddhist temples all around the country begin ringing temple bell 108 times. According to a Buddhist belief humans have 108 earthly desires which are reason for suffering. People have to overcome it in order to attain enlightenment, and each ring is thought to drive away one such desires. People celebrate this day by eating ‘toshi-koshi’ (year-crossing) noodles which symbolizes longevity.
These festivals are so deeply rooted in Japanese life that they will surely be celebrated and passed on for generations; enriching the counties culture and traditions.