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January kagamimochi gantan Gantan

gantanGantan is the first day of a year. It is the most auspicious day in Japan. Many people go to shrines orkadomatu temples near by or even far a way, to celebrate the beginning of the new year and wish their health and the success. Many of them usually go there before Gantan, that is, at the evening of the last day of the year, and get rid of the bad things experienced to enter the new year with purified mind. Visiting shrines on the new years day is called hatumoude.

To celebrate Gantan, people display kadomatu, sprigs of pine tree with leaves and bamboo trunk are decorated like the picture on the right.

February setsubun setsubun Setsubun

setsubunSetsubun is the day before the beginning of spring., the day before the spring  equinox.
Long ago, Setsubun did not refer specifically to the beginning of the spring. It meant the day on which the seasons change, so the day before the autumn equinox, the summer solstice, and the winter solstice were also called Setsubun. Now, however, only the spring one is called Setsubun and people do not think of other seasons when they hear the word Setsubun.

On the evening of Setsubun a branch of the holly tree, adorned with the dried head of a sardine, is displayed at each house's entrance to stop evil spirits from coming in. This became the origin of the Japanese proverb "Even the head of a sardine can be a charm against evil if you believe in it". However only a small percentage of people now practice this custom. Especially in urbanized areas surrounded by modern buildings, people have lost a keen sense for the change of the season. Some seasonal traditions are fading from practice.

Mamemaki is still widely performed. Mame means beans, and maki means to throw or to scatter. In Mamemaki, soybeans are scattered about to turn away evil and to welcome happiness. Many temples and shrines conduct Mamemaki ceremonies in their gardens and quite a few people gather to participate. Nowadays it has become somewhat commercialized.

March hina ningyo hinamatsuri Hinamatsuri
higan ohigan Ohigan

hinamatsuriHinamatsuri is girl's festival on March the 3 rd. Families having girls display beautiful dolls, known as Hina Ningyo, in houses and wish their health and happiness. This tradition began in the eighth century.@However, originally the dolls are made of paper and they are sent onto rivers to carry people's impurity away, thus childrens are safe from being harmed from impurity.

hinaningyohinaningyoThese ara some of traditional Hina Ningyo.

higanOhigan is the week centering around Spring and Autumn Equinoxes. On equinox, the sun sinks in due west. In Buddhism, it is believed that the heaven is in the west, although it is unmeasurably far from our world. Thus, Ohigan is important for Japanese people who still keep their tradition. They go to pilgrimages to the tombs to pray for their ancestors.
The literal meaning of Ohigan is "the other side of the river", the river divides this world we are living and the other world those passed away live. In Ohigan, those passed away are said to return to their home to meet their family.

April sakura ohanami Ohanami

Ohanami, or enjoying cherry blossoms, is one of the most pleasant activities in Japan. People know the change of the season from winter to spring by observing cherry to bloom. In the very beginning, Ohanami is a religious activity to go into the mountain area and purify their life. And the date of Ohanami was fixed to March the 3rd or 4th, although in some district it was April 8th.
However it was changed to lose the religious meaning and people began to go out for Ohanami to have fun by watching cherry blossoms and taking drink and foods under cherry trees. From around Nara and Heian era, Ohanami became popular. In Edo era people became enthusiastic for going out for Ohanami. Thus Edo, the old name of Tokyo, was called "hana no Oedo", means "cherry blossoms city Edo".

cherry blossomscherry blossoms from distance
Unlike many cherry blossoms in Europe or in US, most popular Japanese cherry trees such as Someiyoshino have bloom only at first. Leaves come out only after bloom falls off. The color of the bloom is pale pink. Therefore it looks like pale pink cloud or mist if you watch them in full bloom from the distance. They are one of the most gorgeous blossom in the world but they have no cherry.

Hanamatsuri is held on April 8th. It is to celebrate the birthday of Buddha. In many temples small-scaled compartments made of flower for tiny Buddha statues are prepared for the ceremony. People pore sweat tea from a head of the statue set in the compartment, remembering the old saying that when Buddha born nine dragons came from the sky and showered purified water onto baby Buddha. Hanamatsuri is also called Kanbutsue, or showering Buddha ceremony. It came from India through China. However in old days the same day for Kanbutsue was assigned as a day for Ohanami. Thus Kanbutue became to be called Hanamatsuri, or Flower festival.

May tango tango Tango

Tango is one of the five auspicious days, they are January 1st, March 3rd, May 5th, July 7th and September 9th. In China, those days having the same number as the month were thought to be good days. Chinese people went out to pick up herbs, such as iris, and prayed for their health.
This tradition came into Japan in Heian era and became popular. As iris is pronounced "Shou bu" in Japanese, which has same sound as the pronunciation of the characters meaning "toward" and "warrior", samurai family celebrate the day wishing their boys healthy growth.
They displayed Samurai warrior's helmet and Koinobori. Koinobori is a set of streamers in the shape of carps. Carps were believed to become dragons after going upstream the waterfall or thunder shower. People wished their children grow up to be great men just like carps became dragons.
Today, Tango is a national holiday known as "Children's day".

The followings are the symbols of Tango.

shoubu koinobori kabuto
Iris, or Shoubu in Japanese. Koinobori, streamers shaped as carps. Samurai warrior's helmet.

July tanabata tanabata

tanabataTanabata is one of the five auspicious days, they are January 1st, March 3rd, May 5th, July 7th and September 9th. In China, those days having the same number as the month were thought to be good days. July 7th is called Tanabata, also Shichi seki, It is said that Chinese tradition and Japanese tradition was mixed to become Tanabata. Chinese tradition is Star festival, the Weaver star, Vega, and the Cowherd star, Altair, meet each other once a year, on July 7th. Girls in China, celebrating Weaver star, wished to be good in writing and weaving. Japanese tradition is a memorial festival for their ancestors. People took bath in water to purify themselves and prepare for their ancestors coming back from another world.
Now, Tanabata has less religious meaning and is celebrated in elementally schools, families having young children and so on. As shown in the left Fig. strips of paper to which people's wishes are written are attached to bamboo tree. The decollated bamboo is used as an symbol of Tanabata.

November Shichigosan

Shichigosan is a ceremony to celebrate children's growth. On November 15th, people celebrate their children's growth at the age of 3 and 5 for boys, and 3 and 7 for girls. The name Shichigosan comes from these ages. "Shichi" means seven, "go" means 5 and "san" means 3.
Although it is not true for today, babies were supposed to get shaved their head till they were at the age of three. After the age of three, people thought they were not infant any more. The celebration was called "Kamioki", meaning putting hair on their head.
In Edo era, as for boys celebration, they wore "Hakama" to show that they were not child any more. "Hakama" was a formal ware for man. And for girls celebration, they wore "Obi" instead of a string to tie around the waist. At these ages, people treated them as a man or woman.
Nowadays, these differentiation with age has gone away, but still we celebrate children's growth on "Shichigosan".

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