Experience the Magic: 23 Essential Traditional Japanese Festivities Unveiled!
In the midst of Japan’s four ever-changing seasons, there are important annual events that have a variety of meanings.
There are many traditional and annual events, ranging from those that are familiar nationwide to those with strong regional characteristics, and they are also moments when we in modern society can come into contact with Japanese traditions.
In this article, we will introduce Japanese traditional and annual events.
・What is the meaning of Japanese traditional events?
・What do Japanese traditional events mean?
・What are the typical traditional events of the four seasons?
Please become familiar with Japanese traditional events and annual events held in each of spring, summer, fall, and winter.
About Japanese Traditional Events
What is a “Nenchu-gyouji” or “Dentou-gyouji”?
So, what is the meaning and difference between “Nenchu-gyouji” and “Dentou-gyouji”?
“Nenchu-gyouji” refers to annual events and ceremonies held at the same time each year, and does not refer only to traditional Japanese events.
So, it also includes foreign events that have entered Japan in recent years, such as Halloween and Valentine’s Day.
On the other hand, “Dentou-gyouji” refer to events that have a long history, are held at a specified time of the year, and have become a regional tradition.
“Dentou-gyouji” are events centering on traditional ceremonies handed down from ancient times in Japan. Traditional events are not limited to once-a-year cycles, but also include traditional events held in 10-year, 20-year, and 100-year cycles.
Both are held in accordance with the four seasons and milestones in Japan, but”Dentou-gyouji” are events that are held regularly in certain areas that have traditionally been a part of Japan’s history. “Nenchu-gyouji” are events that take place annually at certain times of the year that have become established in Japan.
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Traditional Spring Events
Spring is the time of year in Japan when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom and new life begins.
What are some of the traditional springtime events in Japan from March to May?
Hinamatsuri is one of the traditional Japanese festivals for girls, held on March 3, Joushi-no-Sekku.
It is celebrated at home and in public places by decorating hina dolls and preparing special foods to pray for the healthy growth of girls.
Typical decorations for Hinamatsuri are hina dolls. Hina dolls are decorations with male and female dolls side by side, and are displayed in the nihonma (Japanese-style room), or in the entrance or living room. And on Hinamatsuri, special dishes such as hishimochi (rice cakes), chirashizushi (sushi rice crackers), and hishimochi (water chestnuts) are served.
On Hinamatsuri, it is common to have a good time with family and friends, decorating and cooking together.
Local festivals and events are also held, such as the “Hinamatsuri Ouchirasama and Ohinasama Procession,” in which girls in traditional costumes march in a gorgeous procession, and Nagashi Hina (floating dolls), which is an event with strong local characteristics.
In this way, Hinamatsuri is one of the most important festivals in which you can experience Japanese culture and traditions.
Ohigan is a Buddhist event, which is a period of seven days around the vernal equinox and the autumnal equinox, respectively.
The first half of the period is called “higan no iri” (the first day of the equinox), the second half is called “higan no nakabi” (the middle day of the equinox), and the third half is called “higan no ake” (the end of the equinox).
On Ohigan, it is customary to visit graves to make offerings to the deceased, and to make botamochi, which is a rice cake made of lightly mashed glutinous rice and mixed with a suggestion, to be presented at Buddhist altars.
This is called “botamochi” after the peony flower in spring, and “ohagi” after the bush clover flower in fall, and the same thing is called differently in spring and fall on the far side of the equinox.
On Ohigan, people visit graves, a Japanese custom, to remember family and friends who have passed away, and to offer memorial services to the deceased by burning incense and placing flowers on their graves.
In some regions, after visiting the graves, people have tea and sweets in front of the graves, or go around shrines and temples in a procession to visit the graves.
Ohigan is considered to be an important time to remember the deceased as well as to give thanks to nature for the changing of the seasons.
Hanami is one of Japan’s springtime traditions, an event in which people enjoy viewing cherry blossoms with friends and family in parks or along riversides with packed lunches and drinks during the season when the blossoms are in full bloom.
Hanami is said to have originated from an event called “hanami banquet” held by aristocrats in the Heian period (794-1185). Today, however, it has become a widely popular event among the general public, with many people enjoying hanami in parks and along riversides when cherry blossoms are in bloom.
Hanami is enjoyed in a variety of styles, with some people bringing their own picnic lunch boxes, others enjoying food and drink from food stands, and still others enjoying a meal at a restaurant while gazing at the cherry blossoms.
And during the cherry blossom viewing season, various events may be held in various locations.
Hanami is one of the opportunities to enjoy Japanese culture and nature, enjoying drinks and food while admiring the beautiful scenery of cherry blossoms, and deepening communication with friends and family.
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Entrance Ceremony Entrance Ceremony
An entrance ceremony is a ceremony held to welcome new students to school at the beginning of a new school year. Generally, the ceremony is held at the end of March or beginning of April, since the new school year begins on April 1.
At the entrance ceremony, the school principal and teachers give speeches and explain school policies and regulations to the new students. It is also the beginning of a new school life.
Entrance Ceremony is a ceremony held to welcome new employees to a new company. Generally, the entrance ceremony is held at the end of March or beginning of April, as the new fiscal year begins on April 1.
At the ceremony, the president or supervisor addresses the new employees and explains company policies and rules to them, and the new employees may also express their goals and enthusiasm for the company.
Entrance and initiation ceremonies are considered important events in educational institutions and companies because they are important ceremonies for a fresh start and raise motivation and hope for the new employee to adjust to a new environment.
They are also an opportunity to learn basic rules for working adults, such as dress and manners.
Children’s Day (national holiday; May 5th)
Children’s Day is one of Japan’s national holidays, celebrated annually on May 5.
Originally, there was an event called “Tango-no Sekku” to pray for the healthy growth of boys, but in 1948, it was established as “Children’s Day” to celebrate all children, including girls.
On Children’s Day, various events are held throughout Japan. In general, families erect carp streamers and eat kashiwa mochi (rice cakes) at home, while in public places, events for children are held in many places.
Many schools also hold events in conjunction with Children’s Day, making it a major Golden Week event throughout the country.
Also, as a symbol of Children’s Day, “warrior dolls” dressed in armor and helmets are sometimes displayed. This symbolizes a boy’s strength and healthy growth, and is cherished by many families.
A large carp streamer is then raised to pray for the healthy growth of the child.
Children’s Day is widely known as a day for children to grow up healthy and have hope for the future, and is a part of Japanese culture.
Traditional Summer Events
There are many traditional and annual summer events in Japan.
Here we introduce some of the traditional summer events held from June to August.
“koromo gae”(changing dress for the season)
In Japan, there is a custom of changing clothes at the seasonal change between summer and the beginning of winter. This is to change clothing according to the seasons of summer and winter, and is now generally done on June 1 and October 1, mainly for school uniforms.
This event is also a legacy of the days when people wore kimonos, and the change from winter kimonos to light summer clothing is an event that remains in the present, with the most familiar being the change of school uniforms for students.
Changing clothes is also a way to maintain one’s health and physical condition by wearing clothing that matches the season. Changing clothes also has a positive impact on lifestyle habits, such as keeping clothes in order and having more storage space.
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Tanabata (Star Festival) is one of the five festivals celebrated annually on July 7. It is a traditional event celebrated in Japan and is also called the Star Festival.
It is based on the Chinese legend of the Star of the Checkers and the Star of the Weaver.
According to the legend, there is a day when the two stars meet on a bridge across the Milky Way, and on this day it is customary to decorate bamboo strips on bamboo leaves to celebrate Orihime (Orihime star) and Hikoboshi (Hikoboshi star).
In Japan, it is said that if you write your wishes on tanzaku strips of paper and hang them on bamboo leaves on Tanabata day, they will be delivered to the stars across the Milky Way.
Tanabata decorations are usually made by hanging strips of paper from bamboo branches and attaching colorful decorations and wind chimes.
For example, in Asakusa, Tokyo, “Sumidagawa Nagashi” is held with lanterns floating on the river, and in Tenryu City, Shizuoka Prefecture, “Takezukuri” is famous for its bamboo decorations.
Tanabata is one of Japan’s traditional festivals where people can enjoy beautiful decorations and tanzaku strips of paper with their wishes on them.
“Shochu-mimai”(summer greeting card)
Shochu-mimai is a Japanese custom to send messages of health and safety to relatives, friends, and acquaintances during the hot summer season.
It is generally sent from mid-July to mid-August, and is widely popular as a part of Japanese culture.
Shochu-mimai messages are usually sent by letter, postcard, or, in recent years, through networks such as e-mail and social networking services.
Messages include words of concern about the heat as well as wishes for good health, “Please be careful of summer heat exhaustion” (“Take care of your health and have a pleasant summer”).
Postcards with lucky charms or items with designs of wind chimes, goldfish, and other summer customs are sometimes sold as part of a hot-summer greeting card.
Shochu-memorials can express thoughtfulness and consideration for the recipient and alert the recipient to health risks associated with the summer heat.
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“Nastu-no-Doyo Ushi-no Hi”(Midsummer Day of the Ox )
Summer Doyo refers to the period from the summer solstice to Risshu.
Among these, the most notable of the summer Ushi-no hi is the day of the Ox. The day of the Ox is the hottest day of the Ushi-no hi, and it is customary to eat eels to strengthen one’s body.
The custom of eating eels on the day of the Ox is said to have started in the Edo period.
At that time, doctors and cooks advertised the benefits of eating eels to prevent summer fatigue and heat stroke, and the practice spread to the general public.
It was also believed that eels are highly heat resistant and grow vigorously during the hot season, which helps build up stamina to withstand the summer heat, making eels suitable for preventing summer fatigue and heat stroke.
Even today, special sales and events are held in supermarkets and restaurants on the day of the Ox, and menus featuring eels are sometimes offered.
Summer festivals are one of the traditional festivals in Japan.
In many communities, summer festivals are held in the precincts of shrines and temples, with a variety of events, food stalls, and fireworks displays. Summer festivals are a great opportunity for local residents to gather together and have a good time.
Summer festivals include parades with portable shrines, taiko drum performances, and musical performances.
Fireworks displays, the biggest event of summer festivals, are also held in many places. Fireworks displays are especially popular among summer festivals, and many people gather to enjoy them.
A variety of food stalls are also set up at summer festivals. Takoyaki, yakisoba, shaved ice, taiyaki, oden, and many other popular dishes are available.
Visitors can also enjoy festival games such as target shooting and goldfish scooping. To get a taste of the summer festival atmosphere, many people wear yukata or jinbei, or enjoy ring tossing and goldfish scooping at fairs.
Summer festivals are often sponsored by local shrines or temples. At shrine festivals, they are held to give thanks to the local deity, while at temple festivals, they are also held as Buddhist events.
Summer festivals are a part of Japanese culture, bringing local people together to spend a summer evening in a harmonious atmosphere.
“Ochugen”(Bon Festival gifts)
Ochugen is one of Japan’s traditional gift-giving cultures and is a summer gift-giving custom.
Specifically, it is common to give drinks and food to family, friends, bosses, and business partners to help them survive the summer heat.
The most common types of gifts are sent from early to mid-July, and the most common types of gifts are cool summer drinks and foods, such as fruits, sweets, sake, beer, carbonated beverages, and tea.
In addition, furoshiki wrapping cloths and decorative boxes with summery patterns and cool, refreshing designs are commonly used to wrap gifts.
Ochugen is a unique Japanese gift-giving culture and one of the most popular summer traditions.
Giving ochugen also plays an important role in Japanese culture and society because it allows people to deepen their relationships through gifts.
Traditional Autumn Events
Autumn in Japan falls between September and November, when the leaves are very beautiful and the nights are longer and more relaxed, and when elegant events are held.
Here we introduce some of the traditional autumn events.
“Ju-goya”(the night of the 15th day of the 8th lunar month)
Jugoya is a term used to describe the full moon of each month on August 15, which is known as the Mid-Autumn Moon.
This day is one of the traditional events celebrated in Japan, China, Korea, Vietnam, and other Asian countries, and is also called the Jugoya Festival.
It is the night of the Mid-Autumn Moon, and people hold feasts and recite poems, and also celebrate the moon by serving tsukimi dumplings, potatoes, beans, chestnuts, etc., and decorating them with silver grass and autumnal flowers and plants.
The origin of Jugoya is believed to be the Mid-Autumn Festival, a traditional Chinese festival. The Mid-Autumn Festival was an event to look up at the full moon to celebrate the harvest, and was later introduced to Japan, Korea, and Vietnam.
In Japan, Jugo-no-yoru is known as “moon viewing,” a custom in which family and friends gather to enjoy dumplings, persimmons, potatoes, and other autumn delicacies while gazing at the beautiful full moon.
On the night of Jugoya, various customs are handed down from region to region, such as offering dumplings for moon viewing, lighting candles in bamboo boats made of bamboo and floating them down the river, and so on.
“Chou-you-no-Sekku “(Chrysanthemum Festival (the 9th day of the 9th lunar month))
Chou-you-no-Sekku is one of the traditional Japanese festivals held on September 9 every year to pray for good health and long life.
On Chou-you-no-Sekku, chrysanthemum flowers are decorated and chrysanthemum wine is drunk in some areas, and chrysanthemum festivals are held at castles, temples, and shrines throughout Japan, where large chrysanthemum flowers in full bloom are judged.
Chou-you-no-Sekku originated from Chou-you-setsu, a traditional Chinese seasonal festival, and in Japan, chrysanthemum festivals were held as an annual event at court during the Heian period (794-1185).
Chou-you-no-Sekku is an event that marks the turning of the seasons and is meant to express gratitude to nature and health.
“Momiji Gari”(fall-leaf viewing)
Momiji-gari refers to an event to enjoy strolling and picnicking while enjoying the beautiful scenery of autumn leaves.
In Japan, it is a popular autumn activity, and many people visit mountains and parks to enjoy autumn foliage viewing, especially when the leaves are at their best.
The foliage viewing season varies from region to region, but in Japan, the best time to view the autumn leaves is from October to December. Autumn foliage shows various shades of yellow, red, and orange, and the trees create a colorful landscape.
The most common way to enjoy autumn foliage viewing is to take a walk in nature.
You can stroll in mountains, parks, temples and shrines, or drive around to enjoy the autumn leaves. Another popular option is to enjoy a meal or tea at a restaurant or café with a view of the autumn leaves.
Food and souvenirs to enjoy the autumn harvest are also available for the changing of the season. Visitors can also enjoy autumn delicacies such as persimmons, chestnuts, and sweet potatoes.
Autumn leaf viewing is an event to enjoy beautiful scenery in unison with nature, and is one of the most representative autumn events in Japan.
Shichi-Go-San is one of the traditional Japanese festivals in which male and female children aged 3, 5, and 7 visit shrines and temples to pray for their healthy growth.
Shichi-Go-San has been held since ancient times and is meant to thank the gods for the healthy growth of children.
In addition, since children’s life expectancy was short in the past, it was believed that taking children aged 3, 5, and 7 to shrines and temples and having them watched over by the gods would lead to good health in later years.
On Shichi-Go-San, children would wear kimonos or hakama and visit shrines and temples with their families. After the visit, it is common to take pictures and have a celebratory meal.
Many boys wear hakama or suits at the ages of 3 and 7, and girls wear their hair tied up to match their kimono at 3 and 7. However, in some areas, both boys and girls celebrate at 3, 5, and 7 years of age.
Shichi-Go-San is usually celebrated on November 15 in the fall, but some shrines and temples hold it on a different date, such as the 10th or 12th of November.
Niinamesai is a traditional Japanese festival in which the emperor eats newly harvested rice to thank the gods for a bountiful harvest. In ancient times, it was also called “Shinden-matsuri.
Since ancient times, niinamesait has been performed by the emperor, and for this reason has been considered an important national festival.
Even today, it is still held at the palace on November 23 each year as a festival for the emperor to eat the new rice dedicated to him and for the farmers to give thanks for a good harvest during the year.
In the ritual of the Niinamesai, the new rice is offered to the gods before the emperor eats it in the main hall.
The Emperor then begins the ceremony of eating the new rice, and afterwards, the eating of the new rice by dignitaries from inside and outside the country is publicized in the press.
Since the new rice is one of the rituals that the emperor has been involved in since ancient times, shrines may also hold the new rice ceremony on the same day.
In some regions, the ritual is celebrated as a harvest festival or autumn festival.
Traditional Winter Events
From December to February, Japan is in the winter season.
Winter is also the time of the New Year, the most important of all Japanese traditional events, and there are many uniquely Japanese customs to welcome the New Year with a fresh spirit.
Let us introduce some of the traditional winter events in Japan.
On the winter solstice in Japan, there is a custom of eating pumpkin and taking a yuzu (citron) bath.
Eating squash on the winter solstice is a custom to wish for good health and good luck during the winter.
It is customary to take a yuzu bath on the winter solstice. Yuzu contains ingredients that are believed to be good for preventing colds and maintaining good health, and the aroma of yuzu is believed to relax the body.
The winter solstice falls on December 22 on the lunar calendar, the day with the shortest day and longest night of the year. For this reason, the Winter Solstice has long been regarded as the day when the sun’s power becomes stronger, a turning point in the calendar, and the border between the end of a year and the beginning of a new one.
Oseibo is the custom of giving gifts at the end of the year and is one of the annual events in Japan.
Generally, gifts are given to people with whom one has social ties, such as business associates, superiors, former teachers and mentors, relatives, and friends.
Food, beverages, tea, confectionery, and fruits are often used as year-end gifts. Among these, freshness and quality are often the most popular choices, with luxury items and local specialties being the most popular.
Year-end gifts are considered to be a way to express gratitude and for the recipient to cherish the connection with the recipient.
Susuharai is a traditional Japanese event, a type of year-end cleaning that has been held since ancient times.
It is meant to prepare for the New Year by cleaning the house, household goods, and clothes.
The origin of “Susuharai” is said to date back to the Heian period (794-1185). At that time, firewood and charcoal were used for heating, and soot would accumulate in the rooms, which could be detrimental to health, so a major cleaning was done several times a year.
One of these cleanups was called “Susuharai” which was held around the time of the winter solstice, and was so named because the soot was removed.
The modern “Susuharai” is intended to clean the house and remove dirt to welcome the new year in a clean state.
It also has the meaning of clearing away the things that have accumulated in the house at the end of the year, letting go of the things of the past, and starting anew.
Susuharai is an important part of traditional Japanese culture, and is performed to pray for health and happiness.
It is also known as a time for cleaning up, and by working together with family, friends, and neighbors, we can bring the year to a beautiful conclusion.
“O-misoka”(New Year’s Eve)
O-misoka, or New Year’s Eve, is the last day of the year in Japan and the eve of the New Year.
On New Year’s Eve, many Japanese spend time with family and friends, preparing for the end of the year and the New Year.
The following is a description of the main events and customs on New Year’s Eve.
(1) New Year’s Eve Bell: Buddhist temples and shrines strike the bell 108 times, known as “jyoya-no-kane” . 108 is the number of times the bell is struck in order to drive away the 108 worldly desires, which in Buddhism represent greed and attachment.
(2) New Year’s Eve Soba: In Japan, it is customary to eat soba noodles on New Year’s Eve. Soba, called “New Year’s Eve Soba,” is considered a good luck charm for good health and longevity.
3) Kohaku Uta Gassen: On New Year’s Eve, a music program called “Kohaku Uta Gassen” is broadcast on Japanese television. Famous Japanese singers are divided into white and red groups and compete with each other to entertain people as they welcome the New Year.
(4) Hatsumode: Hatsumode, or New Year’s visit to shrines and temples at the beginning of the New Year, is often held on New Year’s Eve. Many people go to Hatsumode to pray for good luck, good health, and prosperous business.
Thus, there are various traditional events and customs on New Year’s Eve.
For Japanese people, New Year’s Eve is a special day to spend with family and friends to welcome the New Year, and a day of important ceremonies and preparations for the New Year.
“Oshou-gastu”(New Year’s Day)
New Year’s Day is a traditional Japanese festival. January 1 is New Year’s Day, and the three days from January 1 to 3 are called “Oshogatsu sangatsu (New Year’s three days),” during which many families and relatives gather to celebrate the New Year with a variety of traditional events.
Traditional New Year’s events vary from region to region, but the following is a description of the major nationwide New Year’s events and customs.
(1) Osechi ryori: Osechi ryori, a special dish, is eaten during the New Year. Osechi ryori is made with ingredients that are auspicious in color and shape, and is meant to wish for longevity and happiness.
(2) Ozoni: On New Year’s morning, “ozoni,” a soup containing rice cakes, is served. Characterized by different seasonings in different regions, ozoni is eaten with family and relatives.
(3) Oshidama: During the Japanese New Year, it is customary to give money called oshidama to children. New Year’s dama is a gift to express wishes for the new year and good luck.
(4) Hatsumode: Hatsumode, or first visit to a shrine or temple for the first time in the year, is held in Japan. Hatsumode is held to celebrate the beginning of the new year and to wish for good health and prosperous business.
(5) New Year’s decorations: Kadomatsu, shimenawa (sacred straw rope), kagamimochi (rice cakes), and other New Year’s decorations are displayed in the house. Shogatsu decorations are meant to drive away evil spirits and bring good luck.
New Year’s Day is a special time to spend with family and relatives and is the most important traditional event for Japanese people.
Coming-of-Age Ceremony is a ceremony in which young people turning 20 years old are celebrated as adults.
It is held nationwide on the second Monday of January each year.
Women who participate in the coming-of-age ceremony wear a long, gorgeous kimono with long sleeves called furisode. Men often wear black or navy blue suits, although some men also wear hakama.
Coming-of-age ceremonies are held at the town or village hall of each municipality. At the ceremony, the mayor or town mayor reads a congratulatory address, and the young people participating in the coming-of-age ceremony give speeches congratulating them on their coming of age.
On the day of the coming-of-age ceremony, the area around the ceremony site, photo studios, restaurants, etc. are crowded with young people and their families.
Coming-of-Age Ceremony is a milestone event for young people who have turned 20 years old and are now considered adults in society.
Coming-of-Age Ceremony is one of Japan’s traditional events and an important milestone for young people turning 20.
Setsubun is one of the seasonal festivals in Japan and is held on February 3.
The origin of Setsubun refers to the day before the four seasonal turning points of Risshun, Risshatsu, Risshakyu, and Risshuchu. Setsubun is an event on the lunar calendar in Japan, which uses the solar calendar. The origin of Setsubun is believed to have been the custom of throwing beans to ward off evil spirits.
One of the most famous customs of Setsubun is the bean-throwing ceremony. This is an event in which beans such as soybeans and shelled peanuts are thrown to drive away demons. When bean-throwing is done with family members, the ogres are driven away by saying “Oni wa soto, Fuku wa ine” (Oni wa soto, Fuku wa ine).
On Setsubun, it is customary to eat ehomaki, or rolls wrapped in rice wrapped in eho (traditional Japanese sweet bean paste). It is said that if you eat it facing the direction of the year’s blessing, you will be blessed with good health and good fortune.
On Setsubun, a person wearing an ogre’s mask plays the role of an ogre in the bean-throwing ceremony. The masks have different designs and colors depending on the region, and children are amazed at the power of the masks as they throw the beans.
Setsubun, including bean-throwing and eating ehomaki, is widely popular as a part of Japanese culture.
Reference site:NAJO, National Astronomical Observatory of Japan “Nihon Chronicle
How was it? In this article, we have introduced some of Japan’s traditional events.
Japanese traditional events color the four seasons of Japan, and they convey the traditional culture of Japan to us from time to time.
Each event is a message from our ancestors and people of the past, wishing us happiness and health.
We would like to pass on these traditional events to future generations and to the world.