Obon (お盆, おぼん) also known as Bon (盆, ぼん), is an annual Japanese festival taking place August 13th to 15th. The festival was originally celebrated during the “7th month” of to the lunar calendar. It is still celebrated in July in some regions, but August is now the official date. It is one of Japan’s three major holidays, along with New Year’s and Golden Week, and has been celebrated for over 500 years. Many people take this week to return home and visit family. This three-day celebration honors the spirits of our ancestors.
On the first day of Obon, people go out to visit the graves of loved ones. They take time to clean up the graves and leave offerings and paper lanterns (提灯, ちょちん). Lanterns are also lit and hung outside of homes as a way to guide the spirits back to them. This tradition of calling back ancestors is known asmukae-bon (迎え盆, むかえぼん). Some people even light small fires at the entrances of their homes to help guide the spirits. These fires are known as mukae-bi (迎え火, むかえび).
In preparation of their ancestors’ arrival, some households will create shōryō uma (精霊馬, しょうりょううま). A shōryō uma, or “spirit horse,” is made from a vegetable, usually an eggplant or cucumber, and wooden sticks to form a horse or cow. These creations are then placed on the family altar. They are meant to give the ancestors’ spirits a more comfortable way to travel from the afterlife.
The second day of Obon is dedicated to bon odori (盆踊り, ぼんおどり). This traditional dance has been in Japan for over 600 years. It is performed during Obon to show appreciation for the sacrifices our ancestors have made. Each region has its own dances and music. Typically, though, taiko drums are used and dancers in matching outfits (usually yukata) dance in synchronicity. The bon odori is held locally in public spaces such as parks, temples or shrines, and is celebrated as a festival. Visitors can enjoy the show, dance on the sidelines, and eat festival food.
On the third and final day of Obon, families use lanterns to help their ancestors return to their resting places. This tradition is known as okuri-bon (送り盆, おくりぼん). It has become popular in recent years to send lanterns down a body of water. This ritual consists of lighting a candle and placing it in a floating lantern called atoro nagashi (灯籠流し, とうろうながし). The lanterns are then placed in a nearby lake or river or even the ocean and sent afloat. This is believed to help the ancestors return to where they belong, and it makes for a breathtaking sight! Another mukae-bi fire is sometimes lit to close the ceremony.
In addition to these traditions, many festivals occur during the days of Obon. Typical matsuri events occur with games, entertainment, fireworks, and lots of food! These festivals happen throughout the country and vary by region. One of the most famous of these festivals is the one held in Tokushima in the Shikoku region. It is famous for the Awa Dance Festival held on the second day, when the bon odori, known here as awa odori, is performed. Another popular festival is Daimonji (大文字, だいもんじ), officially known as Gozan no Okuribi (五山送り火, ごぜんのおくりび), in Kyoto. At the close of Obon, massive mukaebi fires are lit on the mountains outside the city. These fires are burned in the shapes of certain kanji, the most famous being 大.
Obon is a one of a kind celebration in Japan. It is a time for tradition and honoring those who have passed, but it is also a time for celebration and enjoyment. Since Obon is such a big holiday that draws large crowds, it is best to plan ahead if you will be in Japan during this time. Even so, it is entirely worth it to get to experience a beautiful and authentic Obon celebration!
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Marine Day (海の日, うみのひ) is a national Japanese holiday that occurs annually on the third Monday in July. The holiday is considered to be the unofficial end of the rainy season and the beginning of summer. It is a time to give thanks to the ocean and acknowledge the importance it has for the island nation. It is also known as Ocean Day or Sea Day.
The day was known as Marine Memorial Day until 1996, when the name was changed to Marine Day and it became a national holiday. The holiday was established in 1941 in memory of the return of Emperor Meiji to the port of Yokohama after his 1876 voyage. This voyage, which navigated around the Tōhoku region, sailed on a steamboat named the Meiji Maru. The ship is on display on the campus of the Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology.
Marine Day is all about the ocean! Many people use this day to go to the nearest beach and relax, swim, snorkel, or do other water activities. Aquariums throughout the country use this day to host ocean-related events.
Another popular tradition on Marine Day is attending Tokyo’s Odaiba Lantern Festival. During this event, over 50,000 multi-colored paper lanterns are lined in rows along the beach in Tokyo’s Odaiba Seaside Park. As the sun sets, the candles inside the lanterns are lit. Guests can walk through the rows of lanterns and admire the view of Tokyo’s Rainbow Bridge across the water. Other Marine Day festivals occur throughout the country. Firework displays are one of the most common ways to celebrate!
Marine Day is also a day to give back to the ocean. The ocean is a big part of Japan’s culture and has been a major factor in Japan’s economy. Because Japan is an island, it relies a lot on the ocean. A majority of its food comes from the ocean, and it is through the ocean that it can trade with other nations. So, to give back, many people participate in the act of purifying the waters. They do this by throwing balls of mud into the ocean. These mud balls are packed with effective microorganisms, which help to clean up the waters. This tradition is both an apology for ocean pollution and a show of gratitude for all the ocean does.
Overall, Marine Day is a day to relax, enjoy the summer, and think about the importance of the ocean. It is a time to show appreciation to the sea and give back for all it does. But most importantly, it is a celebration of the ocean and the life that it provides!
Tanabata (たなばた), also known as the Star Festival (星祭り, ほしまつり), is an annual festival held throughout Japan. The holiday is traditionally celebrated on the “seventh day of the seventh month.” However, this date can vary depending on the region and the use of the Gregorian calendar. Tanabata celebrations occur from July 7th through the beginning of August. The celebration began in China and came to Japan during the 8th century, but did not gain popularity until the Edo period (1603 and 1867).
The holiday is inspired by the Chinese myth known as “The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl.” In the story, Orihime (Weaving Princess), wove clothing along the bank of a heavenly river (the Milky Way). Orihime was sad because she worked so hard that she was never able to find her true love. Seeing this, her father, Tentei (King of the Sky), introduced her to Hikoboshi (Star Boy). Hikoboshi, a cowherd, lived and worked on the other side of the Milky Way river. They quickly fell in love. However, their love prevented Orihime from doing her duties and Hikoboshi lost track of his cattle. Orihime’s father grew angry at their carelessness, so he split the two lovers apart, one on each side of the Milky Way. Orihime begged her father to let them meet again, so her father relented. He allowed them to meet once a year on the seventh day of the seventh month. Yet, on that night, the lovers were unable to cross the river to reach one another. When a flock of magpies saw the separated lovers, they banded together to form a bridge across the Milky Way.
The legend says that if it rains on Tanabata, then the magpies cannot form a bridge and the lovers cannot meet. So, on this day, many wish for clear skies. The lovers in the story represent Altair and Vega, two of the brightest stars in the sky.
Tanabata focuses largely on celebrating the arts. People do this with plenty of decorations made from paper and string. One of the most iconic parts of Tanabata are the tanzaku (短冊, たんざく). Tanzaku are thin strips of paper that people write their wishes on. The paper strips are then hung from the boughs of bamboo trees. Tanzaku come in five colors to represent the five elements: blue or green (wood), red (fire), yellow (earth), white (metal), and black or purple (water).
Other paper decorations include 巾着 (きんちゃく), which are shaped into small purses and symbolize wealth; 神衣 (かみごろも), tiny kimonos for sewing skills; 投網 (とあみ), nets for good fishing and harvests; 折り鶴 (おりずる), chains of paper cranes for health and longevity; and くずかご, trash bags for cleanliness. Once the festivities end, it is common to send these wishes down a nearby river or set them on fire as a way to release them.
Another common sight during Tanabata are large streamers attached to bamboo poles or hung on strings. These streamers are known as 吹き流し (ふきながし).They are each topped with large paper balls known as a kusudama (薬玉, くすだま). Long strips of washi paper hang from the kusudama and can be several meters long! Together, these paper decorations make up the seven symbols of Tanabata.
Tanabata matsuri occur throughout Japan and each region has its own customs. Even so, typical festival customs, such as fireworks, food, and entertainment, are common. The biggest and most famous Tanabata festival is the Sendai Tanabata Festival. This festival takes place in Miyagi prefecture in the Tōhoku region. At the Sendai Tanabata festival, people celebrate with the seven symbolic paper decorations. These decorations can be found in other regions, but tanzaku are by far the most common sight on Tanabata!
While there has been a bit of news of borders opening up in Japan, it hasn’t quite reached the point where the country is fully open. It’s another Japanese sakura spring that we have to miss. But not to worry, for those living in the US, there are a few sakura events that you can go to in place of it.
In this article, we list five of the many sakura events in the US. Keep reading to see which ones can be found in your city or an area near you!
National Cherry Blossom Festival (Washington, DC)
One of the most popular sakura events is the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, DC. This festival is run by a non-profit organisation and features a few events, exhibits and even performances related to cherry blossoms as well as US-Japan relations. You will get your fill of fireworks, concerts and parades at this festival.
As the festival doesn’t take place on just one day but a few weeks, there’s hope the cherry blossoms will bloom during the festival. This year, DC’s cherry blossom reached peak bloom on March 21st 2022.
The National Cherry Blossom Festival runs from March 20th to April 17th. Key events include Kite Festival on March 26th, the Parade on April 9th, Sakura Matsuri – Japanese Street Festival on April 9th and 10th, and the PetalPalooza on April 16th.
This next sakura event was on hiatus for two years, but is now up and running again. On March 26th, the Sakura Taiko Fest 2022 will have a full day of drumming, including performances by Kyo Daiko, River City Taiko, Nen Daiko and Dounen Daiko, Miyako Taiko, MHTX and students in the Mark H Taiko School.
This event started out as a small concert held in a dance studio for free, giving opportunities for taiko groups to showcase their taiko styles and celebrate Japanese-American culture.
Sakura Matsuri: Cherry Blossom Festival (Long Island)
This festival welcomes spring to Long Island with the blooming of sakura and taiko drum performances. Sakura Matsuri: Cherry Blossom Festival will be held on May 7th at the Wang Center.
The Wang Center is a place that offers activities like Japanese traditional dances, martial arts demonstrations, ikebana flower arrangements, tea workshops, cosplay, calligraphy and more. Join the event for all of these while welcoming spring!
Oh, and one more thing: guests are encouraged to come in their favourite manga character costume!
Coming back in 2022 as well after a long hiatus, the Japanese Garden in Delaware Park and The Buffalo History Museum is bringing back the Buffalo Cherry Blossom! Kicking it off on April 28th is the fundraiser for the festival, featuring a basket raffle, refreshments, as well as performances including cellist and multi-genre artist Leah Rankin and indie rock duo tuesday nite.
41st Annual Conyers Cherry Blossom Festival (Georgia)
Marking 41 years of the event, the 41st Annual Conyers Cherry Blossom Festival will celebrate the generations that have shaped this celebration on March 26th and 27th. The festival has been awarded tons of awards over the years, including Best Event in the Southeast, as well as selected as a Top 20 Event in the Southeast.
There will be performances from acts including Ricky Gunter and Mary Kate Farmer. There’s also the Miss Conyers Cherry Blossom Festival, canvas painting kits, children’s art walk, a dog show and more.
These listed are just a few out of the dozens of festivals happening in the US for sakura. If you do a quick Google search, not only are there festivals, but there are also so many open, free-admission public events organised by the people. While it may not be a full festival with performances, there are those who organise walks, picnics, gatherings and parties.
One of the highlights of February is Valentine’s Day! This holiday of love and chocolate is just around the corner! People all over the world take this day as an opportunity to express their love and celebrate it with gifts. Men, especially, scramble to plan the perfect date and to pick the perfect present.
This Western holiday is relatively new in Japan, but the Japanese already have their own customs and traditions. On February 14th, the guys take it easy while the women prepare days in advance. Wanna know how to celebrate Valentine’s Day the Japanese way?
History of Valentine’s Day in Japan
As mentioned earlier, the current celebration of Valentine’s Day is a relatively new tradition in Japan. Compared to the UK and the US, where they have been celebrating since the 1800s, the first Valentines celebration started in Kobe in the 1930s. However, this holiday only became popular in the country in the 1970s.
Morozoff, a Russian confectionery shop, had an advert in the local English newspaper to promote their special chocolates for this romantic holiday. This was aimed at foreign residents, originally.
Over the span of the next few decades, other businesses started having campaigns for Valentine’s Day, too, encouraging Japanese women to buy gifts for the men in their lives on this day. Not long after, the confectionery business seized this opportunity and started selling heart-shaped confections whenever February is near. Fast forward to now, and we have every convenience store, supermarket and restaurant offering exclusive Valentine’s Day deals and menu options.
How is Valentine’s Day Celebrated in Japan
Men around the world try to get the perfect bouquet of flowers to go along with a perfectly arranged box of chocolates. All of that for that ideal date on the 14th of February. The roles are reversed in Japan. It’s the women who are the busy bees.
You read that right. Women are the ones planning the dates, making reservations and searching for the best presents. Valentine’s Day kind of became part of the kokuhaku (告白) culture in Japan. The word translates to “love confession”. This is when someone confesses their love for another, and if they reciprocate those feelings, the two start a relationship together. On this romantic holiday, women have the opportunity to ask that hot guy out.
Together with this confession is a box of chocolates. This is the biggest tradition in Japan, similar to the rest of the world. The only difference is that women sometimes make chocolate from scratch, for this occasion, in Japan. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never made chocolate from scratch before.
Now, guys, don’t be so quick to be relieved. These chocolates are reciprocated one month later, on March 14th. This day is called “White Day”, which is a whole other article.
Another thing that’s different is that, in Japan, Valentine’s Day isn’t just exclusively for your romantic partner. Isn’t that great news for our single ladies and guys out there?
Types of Chocolates
When we talk about chocolates on Valentine’s Day in Japan, we aren’t only talking about romantic chocolates. Remember when I said that the Japanese don’t celebrate this day only with their significant others? Sometimes, it’s with friends or family. And depending on who you celebrate the day with, you have different types of chocolate.
The most popular type of chocolate is the most obvious one, and that’s for someone you have feelings for or your partner. This is known as the honmei choco (本命チョコ), which translates to “true feeling chocolate”. Because this type of chocolate is the most expensive, high-end type of chocolate, it’s like the Rolls Royce of Valentine’s Day chocolate.
If the name isn’t clear enough, this type of chocolate is reserved for a romantic interest. You can’t give them to just anyone. Some girls would want to pour their emotions into the chocolate by making homemade chocolates themselves.
The second most popular type of chocolate is the giri choco (義理チョコ), which translates to “obligation chocolate”. Since gift-giving is a huge part of Japanese culture, everyone participates in giving out chocolates on Valentine’s Day, to colleagues, friends and family. They all fall under this category of chocolate.
Now, giri chocolates aren’t going to be expensive at all. In fact, this is how you can differentiate between honmei and giri choco. If you receive a limited edition box of chocolates, then be prepared to be confessed to. If it’s a mass-produced wrapped candy, you got a bar of obligation chocolate then.
Valentine’s Day in Japan doesn’t mean only girls are allowed to give chocolates. The guys are still allowed to, but it won’t be honmei’ choco. It’ll then be called gyaku choco (逆チョコ), where “gyaku” means “reverse”. It has the same meaning as honmei choco, just the other way around for genders. If you boys can’t wait till White Day, get your girlfriend some gyaku choco!
Single ladies, you won’t miss out on chocolates at all. We get our fair share this time of the year, especially from our friends. The chocolates we get from them are called tomo choco (友チョコ), which translates to “friendship chocolate”. The word “tomo” is a short form of the word “tomodachi” (友達).
The name is straightforward enough, so you get chocolate from friends. This type of chocolate is between girls, so if you’re a guy and you get chocolates from another guy friend, it’s called homo choco (ホモチョコ).
You don’t have to wait for someone else to get you chocolates, get yourself some jiko choco (自己チョコ). What better way to celebrate a day of love than showing love to yourself!
Happy Valentine’s Day!
So as you can see, the Valentine’s Day traditions for Japan differ quite a bit from the rest of the world, but nothing short of festive either. How will you celebrate this day of love this year? The Japanese way of celebrating or the Western way? Regardless, remember that self-love is also worth celebrating on this day. You don’t need a partner to enjoy this holiday. Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!
A new year is like a new beginning. Other than the big oshougatsu (お正月) celebrations, the Japanese has another festivity that celebrates the beginning of adulthood: Seijin no Hi (成人の日). This translates to Coming of Age Day.
This special day welcomes youths who turn 20 years old into the adult world – it may not sound as appealing for those of us who have had a taste of what adult life has to offer, but let’s also agree that there are tons of other doors of opportunities that adulthood opens.
Seijin no Hi didn’t just pop up recently – this centuries-old celebration has its roots deep in Japanese tradition. This article is all you need to know about this celebration – a more in-depth look into it, check out our Nihongo Master Podcast Season 3 Episode 1, which is what this article is a recap of!
Origin & Significance
What is Seijin no Hi? It is a celebration where youths are formally regarded as adults. This life-changing ceremony is held every second Monday of January, making it the first celebration of the new year (after New Year’s Day itself, of course). Right after the long-lasting Christmas festivities plus the Japanese New Year celebrations, the country has another holiday to look forward to so soon!
Based on Japan’s age structure, the annual calendar is from April 2nd the previous year to April 1st of the current year. So those who turn 20 for that year go through this rite of passage into adulthood. In Japan, 20 is the age of maturity. You’re legally allowed to drink, smoke, drive and gamble as soon as you leave your teenage years behind.
Seijin no Hi has been celebrated as far back as the early 8th century. During that time, a young prince would don fresh, new robes and have his hair in a special style to signify this transition into adulthood. This practice inspired other youths to show their maturity to the public, too. During the Edo period, teenage boys would start carrying swords openly as a way to do that. Young girls, primarily married ones, would dye their teeth black during the late 19th century – this is not only an expression of maturity but also of freedom.
It wasn’t until 1946 that Japan made this occasion a formal holiday on January 15th every year. Then, in 2000, the date changed to every second Monday of January. This is thanks to Japan’s “Happy Monday System”, established in 1998 and 2001, where some Japanese holidays are moved to a Monday to make a three-day weekend for the people.
What They Wear
Every sort of celebration needs an elaborate outfit to go with it. Seijin no Hi is no different. In fact, this holiday is quite the visual spectacle of elegant and elaborate clothing, makeup and hairstyles. Expect photographers, both professionals and relatives alike, capturing the rainbow of colours and extravagance of the scene.
Men and women dress differently on this special day. The most common ceremonial dressing young women opt for is the furisode (振袖) – a type of kimono with long sleeves that’s reserved for unmarried women. However, it’s more common to rent one from kimono rental shops than buying one as it costs quite a bit. On top of that, the ladies would also book their hair and makeup styling well in advance to make sure their photo op is picture-perfect.
While the ladies have the only option of a traditional look, the gents can choose between a Western-style suit or a hakama (袴) paired with a kimono (着物). A hakama is a pair of traditional skirt-like wide-legged trousers that used to be a standard piece of clothing before Western fashion came to Japan. Most of the time, guys opt for the suit rather than the traditional wear, but it’s not at all uncommon for one to choose the other option.
So how is Seijin no Hi actually celebrated? The governments all over Japan host ceremonies on this special day. One of the most significant events to be held on this day is the Omato Taikai in Kyoto, where young women are given the opportunity to showcase their mastery in Japanese archery.
Everyone who’s celebrating their entrance into adulthood receives a formal invitation to their ceremony. Without this invitation, you’re not allowed to enter, other than invited friends and family.
Most of the time, the ceremony starts at noon, giving the youths enough time to prepare in the morning. It starts off with the city mayor giving a speech to congratulate the youths, followed by a few performances including traditional dances and musical shows like a taiko drum performance. There might even be key figures giving a series of lectures – I would expect a whole guidebook on what to do and what not to do as an adult.
Afterwards, these new adults roam around to take pictures with each other, family and friends. Many do visit shrines and temples after to pray for their wellbeing. Some have a big feast or go shopping with family or friends. But the celebration is far from over – after all the formality, these fresh adults celebrate their newly gained freedoms by the best way we can think of: drinking. From bar-hopping to chilling in a local izakaya (居酒屋) for hours, it’s kind of like the informal rite of passage into adulthood.
Seijin (成人) – adults
Otona (大人) –a more common way to say adults
nenrei (年齢) – age
Nansai (何歳) – how old are you
Kyuujitsu (休日) –holiday. You can also say “oyasumi” (お休み) when you want to refer to a day off
kimono (着物) –Japanese traditional garment with wide sleeves. It actually translates to “thing to wear”, as it was the basic piece of clothing during the olden times of Japan
furisode (振袖) –a type of kimono worn by unmarried ladies
Know anyone that turned twenty in the past few months, or turning twenty in the next couple of months? Just like how some of us had sweet 16s or sweet 18s, the Japanese culture has sweet 20 – same ol’ partying and drinking tradition, just with a different take
Christmas is just around the corner. Aren’t we all excited for this festive season? I know I am! In Japan, they too celebrate Christmas. Over the years, the country has adopted many foreign customs and traditions, and that included this Western holiday.
However, just like everything else, Japan adds their own twist to this tradition and makes it their own. Of course, you’ll still hear jingle bells and Christmas tunes all throughout the country, but there are just a few celebrations that are unique to Japan only. In this article, we’ll take a look at the top 5 ways Japan celebrates Christmas differently from the usual.
1. A Holiday for Lovers
Generally, Christmas is known as a Christian holiday. Most of the Western world goes all out for this time of the year. Well, so do the Japanese. However, it’s treated more like a secular celebration regardless of religion. In fact, there are only a few percent of Japanese people that consider themselves as Christian, and mostly consider themselves as Buddhist or Shinto.
On top of that, Christmas is usually celebrated as a family. Members of the family come together and gather regardless of where they are in the world to be together during this time of the year. However, in Japan, it’s more of a celebration for lovers. It’s quite rare that you celebrate this as a family, unless you have young kids and make a practice of celebrating it the Western way.
Usually, couples would plan romantic dates for the Christmas period, like a dinner at a fancy restaurant or strolling around festive areas in town with Christmas lights.
2. KFC Chicken Feast!
Yes, the rumours are true. During Christmas time, the Japanese go crazy for KFC fried chicken! Rather than feasting on glazed ham and roasted turkey, the most popular choice for Christmas lunch or dinner is a good ol ‘bucket of fried chicken from the fast food chain KFC!
In fact, the popularity is so ridiculous that some outlets take preorders months in advance and the dates get sold out so quickly! Last year, I had friends who made orders as early as October! It’s no joke here for the fight for KFC chicken. It’s the real deal!
But hey, if you’re not fast enough to snag a bucket of KFC fried chicken, there are tons of other stores and convenience stores that offer them during this time of the year. They’re not the same, but they’re close enough, I reckon.
3. Christmas Illuminations & Markets
Japan goes all out for this time of the year. I love being in Japan during this season. Everything’s so colourful and lively. And that’s all thanks to winter illuminations that start up as soon as Halloween is over. Japanese cities are lit up with twinkling eco-friendly LED lights. Tokyo is probably the most festive city in Japan during this season. You see trees decorated with these lights, all down the street.
Attraction sites have their own winter special illumination events, too. Flower parks and amusement parks have special decorations just for this season. Even shopping malls turn an ordinary trip to the mall into a magical fantasy experience.
Speaking of decorations, shopping for Christmas decorations and decorating the house is also a thing here. And where else can you get them other than Christmas markets? Of course, local supermarkets and convenience stores offer them too, but you get unique, authentic ones at these Christmas markets.
From the beginning of December, a lot of them pop up, especially in Tokyo. The most popular one is the German Christmas Market in Roppongi that always brings in thousands of visitors every year! Other parts of Japan have Christmas markets too, including the northern city Sapporo.
4. Special Christmas Cakes!
When we think of Christmas desserts, we think of gingerbread men, other types of cookies and also pie. Japan is number one when it comes to dessert, so you would think they would have them all.
Close. They have Christmas cakes! Cakes aren’t only enjoyed during your birthday. During Christmas, getting a special Christmas cake is a big tradition practiced here! They’re not the usual fruitcake that you would usually eat in European and American countries. Instead, the most popular kind of cake for this season is the sponge cake-based strawberry shortcake!
This love affair Japan has with cakes date back to 1922, when the confectionery manufacturer Fujiya started marketing cream-covered cakes with the tagline “kurisumasu ni keeki wo tabemashou!” (クリスマスにケーキを食べましょう) to mean “let’s eat cake on Christmas!”
Although, while the most popular choice of cake is the strawberry shortcake, I have heard from my Japanese friends that they also opt for chocolate cake nowadays. Maybe the trends have changed now, and any type of cake, as long as it’s marketed as a Christmas cake, will do?
5. Japanese Version of Santa
We’re all waiting for the main question: what about presents? Not to fret everyone, the concept of Santa Claus and practice gift-giving is still alive and well in Japan. Kids in Japan look forward to a visit from Santa and opening presents under the tree on Christmas morning. Couples also exchange gifts, and usually done on Christmas Eve instead.
Here’s a fun unique twist: Western tradition has Santa climbing down chimneys. This is pretty difficult to do in Japan when a lot of people don’t have one in their homes. So instead, Santa is seen as some kind of magical ghost with exciting treats!
However, as compared to Western countries, gift giving isn’t that significant. It plays a much smaller role. It may be because that Japan has their own gift-giving day known as “Oseibo” (お歳暮) at the end of the year. .
Have a Merry Japanese Christmas!
If you abide by these five fun facts of Japanese Christmas, you’re going to have one hell of a unique holiday! Whether or not you live in Japan, if you’d like to spice up your holiday, why not celebrate Christmas the Japanese way? Have a merry Japanese Christmas, everyone!
Holidays are just around the corner. Who’s excited? I know I am! But the holidays shouldn’t stop us from keeping up with our Japanese language learning journey. So instead, we should incorporate some holiday into it!
Do you know any Japanese words and phrases for the holiday celebrations? If not, you’ve come to the right place! Just like in English, there are certain words and phrases we use to wish people for the holidays and to describe the holiday season. It may not always be in the first few chapters of your Japanese textbook, but we’ve compiled the top 10 words and phrases you can use for this upcoming festive season!
Keep reading to find out!
1. Omedetou (おめでとう)
The first one has definitely got to be omedetou (おめでとう). You can say this for a lot of different things. It’s so versatile. This word actually translates to “congratulations”, but it’s also used in the Japanese way to say “happy new year”, and that’s “akemashite omedetou” (あけましておめでとう). It actually comes from the word “akeru” (開ける) to mean “to open”, so you’re kind of welcoming the opening of the new year.
You can also say “akeome” (あけおめ) with your friends. This is a casual and slangy way to say it.
You can also attach “omedetou” to other types of holidays like Hanukkah: Hanu-ka omedetou” (ハヌーカおめでとう). Or even Kwanzaa: “Kuwanza omedetou” (クワンザおめでとう).
2. Yoi Otoshi Wo (良いお年を)
One of my favourite phrases to say when the New Year approaches is “yoi otoshi wo” (良いお年を). This translates to “have a happy New Year” and it’s a very common phrase used by Japanese people.
Bear in mind that this phrase is used before the clock strikes midnight on January 1st. When you want to wish someone a happy new year after that, use the phrase before this.
3. Yasumi (休み)
The next basic Japanese word great for the holidays is yasumi (休み). That’s because this word translates to “holiday” or “off day”. You can say to someone to enjoy their holidays by saying “yasumi tanoshinde” (楽しんで). Although it’s perfect for the holiday celebrations, this word can also be used all year round to talk about days you’re not working or school holidays, too.
4. Mata rainen (また来年)
I find this next phrase pretty cute, because it’s a bit quirky and pretty similar to English. Usually, you’d say to someone “see you later”, but when it’s the new year period, I like to say “see you next year” as a quirky saying. I bet a lot of people do, too.
In Japanese, that’s “mata rainen” (また来年). “Mata” (また) actually means “again” but in colloquial Japanese, you can also just say “mata” to mean “later” or “see you”. “Mata ashita” (また明日) means “see you tomorrow”.
5. Kyuuka (休暇)
While we already have the word for holiday before, this is another basic Japanese word for “holiday”: “kyuuka” (休暇). This is a more formal version than “yasumi” but it’s often combined with other words like “Christmas holidays” or “summer holidays”.
“Christmas holidays” is “kurisumasu kyuuka” (クリスマス休暇) and “summer holiday” is “kaki kyuuka” (夏季休暇).
6. Tanoshinde (楽しんで)
This next basic Japanese phrase for the holidays is “tanoshinde” (楽しんで), which means “have fun”. You can attach this to another word to make sentences like “have a fun Christmas party”, or you can just say it on its own.
“Have a fun Christmas party” is “kurisumasu pa-ti wo tanoshinde!” (クリスマスパーティを楽しんで！) .
7. Oshougatsu (お正月)
The next basic Japanese word you should know for the holidays is “oshougatsu”, which translates to “Japanese New Year”. This is a more common word to describe the first of January, but there’s also another word: ganjitsu (元日). While both are acceptable to use, the first one is more popular.
8. Purezento (プレゼント)
If you’ve mastered your katakana, you already know what this word means: presents! Purezento (プレゼント) is the katakana form of the English word “present”, and what’s the holidays without a gift or two, am I right?
9. Meri Kurisumasu (メリークリスマス)
We have a few ways to talk about the holidays and New Years, but not so much on how to say “Merry Christmas”. It’s pretty simple, which is why I saved it for the last few. “Merry Christmas” is just the katakana form: meri kurisumasu (メリークリスマス).
10. Shinnen ga yoi toshi de arimasu you ni (新年が良い年でありますように)
This is a pretty long one, but also a good basic Japanese phrase to learn for the holidays. You’re wishing someone the best wishes for the next year. Kind of like the shorter phrase above “yoi otoshi wo”. However, this is a more formal and genuine wish.
You can also use parts of this phrase to say other things like “I hope you have a good day”. Just use the “de arimasu you ni” and attach it to another wish like “a good day”, which is “yoi hi” (良い日): “yoi hi de arimasu you ni” (良い日でありますように). Just attach this phrase to any good wish you want to give!
Have a happy holiday season!
And that wraps up the top 10 basic Japanese words and phrases for the holiday celebrations. I hope you learn them just in time for the festive season. They’re super easy and super useful. Try it out with your family and friends! Have a wonderful holiday season, everyone! よいお年を！
Every country has its own set of national holidays. Not every country will have the same one. Japan, just like every other aspect of the country, has its own unique set of Japanese holidays that are only heard and celebrated in the country.
Japanese holidays can range anywhere from the standard New Year’s Day and Children’s Day to the traditionally rooted ones like Coming of Age Day and Emperor’s Birthday. Discover all you need to know for each type of public holiday — including fun facts and origin — in this ultimate guide to Japanese holidays!
January: New Year’s Day
This is the only Japanese holiday that is in line with the rest of the world: New Year’s Day, also known as Ganjitsu (元日) in Japanese, starts off Shougatsu (正月, new year’s season) which is usually the first three days of the year. It is one of the most significant holidays of the whole year — unlike the western countries where people party in silly hats and popping confetti, the Japanese have their own way of celebrating New Year’s.
Most of the Japanese head over to a nearby shrine on the night of New Year’s Day to pray for the new year. Some wake up early in the morning to see the first sunrise of the year. There’s also a tradition of eating a special combination of food called osechi-ryouri (お節料理) which consists of sweet, sour and dried foods.
The Japanese also write handwritten letters to family and friends, wishing them a great new year. Children also receive money as a New Year’s gift — what a treat!
January: Coming of Age Day
Not too long after the first Japanese holiday is the Coming of Age Day (Seijin no Hi in Japanese, 成人の日). This falls usually on the second Monday of the month of January, and it celebrates those who have reached the age of adulthood in Japan: 20 years old.
These celebrations usually take place at local and prefectural offices where these young adults gather and make speeches. The women are usually wearing their full kimono called the “furisode” (振袖). Even though the men are supposed to be in their formal attire known as the “hakama” (袴), it’s more common to see them in western-style suits.
Of course, what’s a celebration of youth without a night out drinking — that’s exactly what these adults take part in afterward!
February: National Foundation Day
The National Foundation Day, known as the Kenkoku Kinen no Hi (建国記念の日) is celebrated on every 11th of February. This is the day where Emperor Jimmu supposedly came to the throne — it’s calculated as the first day of the month of the lunar calendar. The Japanese are extremely proud of this day as it reflects their patriotism.
February: The Emperor’s Birthday
In the past few years, the Emperor’s Birthday (Tennou Tanjoubi, 天皇誕生日) was celebrated on the 23rd of December. A new emperor has been crowned since, and now the Emperor’s Birthday is celebrated on the 23rd of February.
This is a special day for all the Japanese as it’s only one of two occasions the public can enter the inner grounds of the Imperial Palace. The Emperor as well as Empress along with the members of the imperial family wave hello to the crowds from the palace balcony.
March: Vernal Equinox Day
The Vernal Equinox Day — Shunbun no Hi (春分の日) in Japanese — is usually around the 19th of March to the 22nd of March. It initially was a Shintoist-related event but now it is celebrated as the Spring Equinox. This is when the number of daylight hours and night hours are the same.
This holiday signifies the official change of seasons from winter to spring, and the Japanese use this time to visit their loved ones’ graves, pay homage to their ancestors and clean their homes as a way to renew their own lives — kind of like spring cleaning. It’s a very family-focused holiday for the Japanese.
April: Showa Day
In April, the Japanese celebrate the birthday of Emperor Shouwa Hirohito who was the reigning emperor from 1926 to 1989. This Japanese holiday is called the Showa Day — Shouwa no Hi (昭和の日) in Japanese.
This holiday is the reflection of the turbulent years during the Showa Era where there were constant Japanese invasions of foreign countries, World War II and a few other political events that happened during the time.
Showa Day is also the start of Golden Week (ゴールデンウィーク), a week-long holiday for the Japanese and also the busiest time of the year for travel in Japan. This week consists of back-to-back holidays starting with Showa Day and ending with Children’s Day.
May: Constitution Memorial Day
Part of the Golden Week holiday is the Constitution Memorial Day known as the Kenpou Kinenbi (憲法記念日). Falling on the 3rd of May each year, this holiday celebrates the new constitution after World War II that was created.
May: Greenery Day
Japan has a day to celebrate nature, the Greenery Day (Midori no Hi, 緑の日). Originally, this holiday was created to acknowledge Emperor Showa’s love for plants and nature without having his name in the official holiday title.
Now, it’s just another holiday that forms up the Golden Week holiday.
May: Children’s Day
Wrapping up the Golden Week holiday is Children’s Day (Kodomo no Hi, 子供の日) that falls on the 5th of May. On this day, you’ll be able to see tons of carp fish flags hung on poles at every home. Even though it’s called Children’s Day, this Japanese holiday is not only meant to celebrate the children but also the mothers and fathers.
The flags are meant to represent each family” black carp at the top represents the father, red carp represents the mother and any carp below are for the children.
July: Marine Day
Just like how there’s Greenery Day to celebrate nature, there’s Marine Day to celebrate the ocean. Umi no Hi (海の日) is a huge celebration for the Japanese — Japan is an island nation that’s surrounded by the ocean, after all.
This holiday comes at the end of the rainy season, so a lot of Japanese families will take advantage of the summer sun to go out and enjoy a day at the beach.
July: Sports Day
Taiiku no Hi (体育の日) was usually celebrated in October and was called “Health-Sports Day”, but from 2020 onwards, it shortened to just “Sports Day” and will be held in July instead.
The original reason for the holiday was to commemorate the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo as well as encourage sports and active lifestyle. The change of date is because of the Tokyo Olympics 2020 that was supposed to be held in July 2020.
On this day, schools often hold their annual sports events called the Undoukai (運動会) where there will be regional games of every sports — from track and field to tug of war. It’s an entire day of festivities surrounding any and all sports!
August: Mountain Day
The Japanese have the Greenery Day and the Marine Day — of course, let’s not forget about the mountains. Yama no Hi (山の日) is Mountain Day that, as it suggests, celebrates the mountains and the blessings they bring. It falls in early August, depending on the year.
September: Respect for the Aged Day
If they have Children’s Day that celebrates the young, why not celebrate the old as well? Keirou no Hi (敬老の日) is also known as Respect for the Aged Day. This Japanese holiday always falls on the third Monday of the month of September, and represents the deep respect the people of Japan have for their elderlies.
September: Autumnal Equinox Day
Just like how Vernal Equinox Day signifies the change of winter to spring, Autumnal Equinox Day (Shuubun no Hi, 秋分の日) signifies the change of summer to autumn. This holiday falls two days after the Respect for the Aged Day.
In some lucky years, these holidays can make up a 5-day long weekend holiday — sounds familiar, right? When this happens, it’ll be known as a Silver Week (シルバーウィーク), and just like Golden Week, travel prices will skyrocket through the roof!
November: Culture Day
Bunka no Hi (文化の日) is a day to promote culture and academics. Culture Day provides the opportunity for creative minds out there to present their works at art exhibitions as well as win awards and scholarships. This Japanese holiday falls on the 3rd of November every year.
November: Labour Thanksgiving Day
Labour Thanksgiving Day, known as Kinrou Kansha no Hi (勤労感謝の日) falls on the 23rd of November and it’s a day dedicated to giving thanks to one another — much like the Western thanksgiving.
The origin of this holiday dates back centuries ago when it used to be an ancient harvest festival — the Emperor would dedicate the year’s harvest to the gods.
The Japanese are all about appreciation and respect — it shows, big time, in their types of national holidays. From dedicating days to acknowledge nature, ocean, and mountains to the ones that highlight the values of young and old alike, there’s nothing quite like the Japanese holidays.
Nara is one of the top cities to visit when travelling to Japan. A simple Google search is enough proof of that. This city is even older than its neighbour counterpart, Kyoto, which is the country’s ancient capital city. You already can guess the historical value of this city.
Nara is rather small. You can explore the entire city centre on foot, discovering temple after temple, shrine after shrine. That makes the city a perfect day trip if you’re staying in Osaka. From local eateries to roaming friendly animals, it’s a city you definitely want to include in your Japan itinerary. Here are some activities you’d want to consider when planning your Nara itinerary.
1. Say hi to the deers in Nara Park
You can’t visit Nara and not say hi to the friendly and adorable deers at Nara Park. It’s like a rite of passage to the Nara experience. There are more than 1,500 wild deers roaming around the city. The locals see them as natural treasures, and rightly so. There are tons of stalls that sell deer crackers for you to feed these cute animals.
Here’s something you should try: bow to a deer before feeding them. They might just bow back! Stay alert, though. These deers are mostly friendly, but they do have their days. Never run away from them. Just be stern and show your hands with no food in them to the deers.
2. Explore Kasugayama Primeval Forest
If you’re a big fan of nature, you might want to pop by Kasugayama Primeval Forest. It’s not far from Nara Park at all. There’s a “forest bathing” experience that you can sign up for. In the duration of three to four hours, you’ll be guided through the woods with a qualified guide. Lay down on the carpet-like, soft moss and observe the forest insects as the guide explains them all to you. There are benefits to this forest bathing experience, and you have to go through this once-in-a-lifetime experience to know what they are.
3. Visit Kasuga-Taisha Shrine
While at Nara, you have to stop by Kasuga-Taisha Shrine. This is one of the biggest sightseeing attractions in the city. The story is that the deity enshrined there, called Takemi Kajichi no Mikono, rode a mystical white deer to this city from Ibaraki prefecture. This legend is the reason why deers are so dearly protected. At this shrine, you definitely can’t miss the rows of bronze lanterns that decorate the grounds. Worshippers donated them over the years. If you have time, pop by the museum there as well.
4. Stay in a temple
One of the most authentic experiences you can have in Japan is staying in a temple. You can do that in Nara. This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity is definitely not to be missed, regardless of whether you’re a religious person or not. The most popular temples to stay at are Gyukuzoin Temple and Koyasan. You’ll be able to stay in a tatami-style room with futons and sliding doors. Your stay will include a Japanese-style dinner, too. Wake yourself up in the morning to join the morning prayers and ceremonies that they have every day.
5. Go on a shopping spree in Higashimuki
Cities in Japan always has their own shopping street. Nara is no different. Shopaholics, you’ll be glad to know that Nara’s Higashimuki Shopping Street will satisfy your shopping cravings. It’s like the city’s very own Takeshita Street of Tokyo! You’ll never see this area empty. It’s always full of energy. The best part about going to these shopping streets in Japanese cities is that you might be able to find goods that are exclusive to the city. Everything from basic souvenirs to handmade crafts is there for your choosing.
6. Wander Naramachi streets
Nothing beats a good wander. Japan’s perfect for that. Nara is a former merchant district. That explains the exquisite buildings. Take a stroll without checking Google Maps every five minutes and let yourself get lost. The streets of Nara still hold the charm of the old days. You’ll feel like you’ve travelled back in time.
Alternatively, you can go on a guided tour by one of the locals. If you see a man standing next to a rickshaw, approach him. He’ll pull you down the streets while giving you some explanation along the way. Grab this photo opportunity!
7. Slide Down Buddha’s Nostrils at Todaiji Temple
What’s a sightseeing trip in Japan without a visit to a temple? The Todaiji Temple is the home to a few record-winning structures. The buildings themselves have been burned down twice, but the one we see today was rebuilt during the Edo Era. This temple is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is also the headquarters of Kegon School of Buddhism.
At this temple, there’s the largest bronze Buddha statue in the world. It’s of Vairocana Buddha, the Buddha of Light. It’s said that if you slither through the nostrils of this 14.8 meters tall statue, you’ll be granted a life full of happiness.
8. Explore Dorogawa Onsen
Who wants a bit of adventure? Not too far from the city centre of Nara is Dorogawara Onsen, a hot springs town with a peaceful ambiance. Exploring the area can take up a day or even two, but you wouldn’t want to miss the lantern-decorated streets and nature.
Nearby, you can hike to the suspension bridge which is one of the largest in all of the country. It crosses Mitarai Valley. The view is breathtaking. Whether it’s a summer outdoor adventure or a winter soak in a hot springs bath, Dorogawa Onsen town is a must-visit.
9. Stroll Around Isui-en Garden
Before you stop by Todaiji Temple, stroll through the conveniently located Isui-en Garden. This spacious and peaceful gardens is one of the highlights of the entire Kansai region. There are various types of flowers blooming all year round. Ponds and pathways run throughout the grounds.
10. Try the Asuka Nabe
The Japanese travel around the island nation for food. Nara is famous for its asuka nabe dish. This is similar to hot put, but with an abundance amount of chicken or any meat of your choosing! This kind of dish is usually eaten during winter, but don’t let that stop you if you’re visiting during other times of the year.
The historical status is pretty clear in Nara. You can feel it in the air. With so many things to do and places to see, a day-trip might be too short to explore this beautiful city. Take that into consideration when planning your Japan trip!