Festive Japan

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As a country that experience seasonal changes significantly, most of Japan’s festivities, although highly influenced by culture and religion, have that seasonal element to it. There are quite a few popular festivals in Japan which are celebrated on a particular day in a particular month.

There also are some age-specific festivals which are celebrated to show maturity. These festivals are celebrated when a person reaches a certain age and therefore, not celebrated on a fixed day or a month of the year.

Here, let’s take a look at some of the age-specific and season-specific festivals in Japan which aren’t always under the spotlight but interesting and unique nonetheless.

Shichi-Go-San

In Japanese shichi, go, and san means seven, five, and three respectively. Accordingly, this particular festival is dedicated to young girls of the age seven and three as well as young boys aged five. Shichi-Go-San is celebrated on 15 November every year to bring good luck, prosperity, and good health for the Japanese children of the certain age since in Japanese belief the numbers; seven, five, and three are considered to be lucky numbers.

This rite of passage festival was first celebrated in the Heian Period (794 – 1185), only by the court nobles who celebrated their children’s passage to the middle childhood in good health since child mortality rates back then were alarmingly high. Over the years the Samurais of Japan have added a few rituals to the festival; three of which are now being practiced widely. 

Kamioki: Is the festival for the
three-year-old girls, which marks the growing of hair officially. Traditionally, the Japanese baby girls had their heads constantly shaven from the seventh day since their birth until their third birthday. 

Hakamagi-no-Gi: Is the second ceremony, dedicated to five-year-old boys. This ceremony is similar to the Western practice of ‘breeching’ which marked a young boy wearing formal attire for the first time.
Hakamagi-no-Go marks the first time a young boy wearing the formal attire hakama (a traditional Japanese clothing) and haori (a traditional hip or thigh-length jacket worn over a kimono).

Obitoki-no-Gi: Is the third ceremony, which is dedicated to seven-year-old girls. Until they are seven years of age, the Japanese girls wear the traditional kimono sans the obi (the traditional sash). The wearing of this sash for the first time is symbolic of the girl entering the womanhood. Until then the girls used to wear a lightweight scarf or an informal string to tie the kimono.

On the day, the seven-year-old Japanese girls visit Shinto shrines with their parents for the sash-wearing ceremony and are given a special candy called Chitose Ame (thousand-year candy). This long, thin and usually red and white candy is made out of sticky rice and sugar and is wrapped in a paper bearing images of storks and turtles which symbolises protection and longevity, respectively.     

Tsukimi

The Japanese word tsukimi literally means ‘moon viewing’. Accordingly, this festival is all about observing the full-moon on the full-moon day which falls in between 15 August and 15 September, according to the Japanese lunar calendar. This particular full-moon day falls during autumn when the skies are clear and the nights are neither cold nor too hot so, many Japanese youngsters as well as elders actively take part in Tsukimi. Just like us Sri Lankans, the Japanese children too believe that there is a rabbit on the moon but according to their folklore, this rabbit is on the moon making rice cakes for the moon. On the Tsukimi night the Japanese children view the full-moon, and sing and dance for the rabbit. They also prepare dango – a special sweet made out of rice flour – and offer it to the moon.

Segaki

Usually celebrated in July every year, Segaki is a ritual related to Japanese Buddhism during which the Japanese offer food and beverages to dead family members. The Japanese go to temples with the offerings and dedicate them to their dead family members, wishing the good deed will help them escape hell. They also visit the gravestones of the departed family members and clean them before offering flowers and incense sticks. Segaki is strikingly similar to the Sri Lankan Buddhist ritual of mathaka danaya which involves giving alms to the temple in memory of dead family members.     

Higan

This festival is celebrated for seven days, twice a year; March and September. The fourth day or the day in the middle is called higane and it has exactly 12 hours each for day and night, while in the other six days the duration of the day and night is only more or less the same. During these seven days the Japanese follow Buddhist practices; meditation, developing patience, strengthening courage, and improving spiritual wisdom.

The festival has a deep religious history that dates back to over 1,200 years. During Higan, the Japanese visit local Buddhist temples and offer, food, flowers, and incense sticks. They walk around the temple premises chanting various religious chants and make wishes.

Yukimatsuri

Yukimatsuri is the Japanese snow festival which is celebrated during the winter months of December, January and February. The main snow festival of Japan is celebrated in Sapporo – the capital of Japan’s northernmost main island, Hokkaido. The main festival takes place at the Odori Park in Sapporo where grand snow sculptures of gods, animals, mythical creatures, heroes, stories of Japanese folklore, and other contemporary designs and sculptures are on display. The festival, as of late, has taken a rather commercial turn, despite its traditional origins, and now attracts millions of local and foreign tourists to sapporo every February. 

(Translated by Sanuj Hathurusinghe)

By Chandana Ranaweera