Obon: One of the Biggest Celebrations in Japanese Culture

Obon: One of the Biggest Celebrations in Japanese Culture

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 as mukae-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 a toro 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!

20 Popular Matsuri Foods

20 Popular Matsuri Foods

Summer in Japan is known as matsuri season! Matsuri (まつり) are festivals that go on throughout Japan and celebrate a variety of things. While these festivals happen throughout the year, the majority of them occur during the summer months. These matsuri have dancing, games, and most importantly, food! Matsuri food is a beloved part of Japanese culture. Food is cooked and sold at matsuri from food stands known as yatai (屋台, やたい). The food available changes to fit the seasons, but here are some of Japan’s most famous matsuri treats!

Takoyaki (たこ焼き, たこやき)

Takoyaki is a staple of matsuri! Like many other festival foods, takoyaki originated in Osaka. It is created using a batter poured into a specially-made pan to help them get their iconic ball shape. Diced squid is added along with tempura crumbles, pickled ginger, and green onions. Once fried, they are drizzled with mayonnaise and takoyaki sauce, which is a mix of Worchester sauce and ketchup. They are then topped with dried seaweed known as aonori (青のり, あおのり) and dried bonito flakes known as katsuobushi (鰹節, かつおぶし). Takoyaki is usually served in a small tray and eaten with toothpicks or chopsticks.

Yakisoba (焼きそば, やきそば)

Yakisoba means “fried noodles” as 焼き means fried, and そば is a common buckwheat noodle. It is a stir-fried noodle dish with all ingredients cooked in the same pan. Classic yakisoba sauce is made with Worcestershire sauce, ketchup, oyster sauce, and soy sauce. Common mix-ins include pork, onions and cabbage with aonori, and bonito flakes on top.

Okonomiyaki (お好み焼き, おこのみやき)

Okonomiyaki is another common festival food with origins in Osaka. It is a savory pancake made from a wheat-based batter with plenty of toppings and mix-ins. In the batter, the most common ingredients to add are meat or seafood and cabbage. On top, the pancake is drizzled with mayonnaise and okonomiyaki sauce, which is a mixture of Worcestershire sauce and ketchup. Toppings include aonori, bonito flakes, and pickled ginger. Okonomiyaki are sometimes made into hashimaki (箸巻き, はしまき), which is an okonomiyaki wrapped around chopsticks. This version is most popular in the Kansai region. It makes eating okonomiyaki at a festival much easier!

Karaage (唐揚げ, かたあげ)

Karaage is Japanese fried chicken, which makes sense because 揚げ (あげ) means “deep fried.” The term karaage refers to any food that is coated and deep fried in oil, but it is most often assumed to mean chicken. The chicken is first marinated, usually in a mixture of soy sauce, sake, and ginger. It is then coated in potato starch or flour and deep fried. It is served in a cone or a cup with a toothpick for easy eating!

Dango (団子, だんご)

Dango is one of the most iconic Japanese treats! Dango are small Japanese dumplings that are made from rice flour which is rolled into balls, boiled, and placed on skewers. Some dango have a filling while others have toppings or sauces. The most common dango is the anko dango (あんこ団子, あんこだんご), which has a red bean paste filling. Another popular one is the mitarashi dango (みたらし団子, みたらしだんご), which consists of dango covered in a soy sauce glaze for a perfect balance of savory and sweet. One of the most iconic dango, however, is the hanami dango (花見だんご, はなみだんご), the green, white, and pink dango eaten during cherry blossom.

Choco Banana (チョコバナナ)

Choco Bananas are a simple but fun and delicious festival treat. They consist of a peeled banana skewered and covered in chocolate. These bananas can be simple or elaborate with toppings such as sprinkles and candies. Over the years, they have gotten more extravagant. It is now common to use white chocolate dyed in bright colors and decorate the bananas to look like little characters.

Crepes (クレープ)

While originally a French food, crepes have become hugely popular in Japan. Crepes are extremely thin pancakes that are filled with an array of ingredients. In Japan, the sweet crepes are by far the most popular. Festivals or food carts sell them in cones for easy handling. Ice cream, Nutella and custard are used as fillings. They often include fruit, particularly bananas, strawberries, or kiwis. They can then be topped with whipped cream, chocolate, candy such as pocky, and more fruit. The possibilities are endless!

Ikayaki (いか焼き, いかやき)

Ikayaki is a classic festival and street food. It consists of a squid grilled and covered in soy sauce or teriyaki sauce. Before grilling, the squid is marinated in a mixture of soy sauce, mirin, miso, ginger, and sake. Like many festival foods, it is served on a skewer for easy handling.

Yakitori (焼き鳥, やきとり)

Yakitori is another classic festival food! It is made by skewering chicken, grilling it then coating it with a sauce or flavoring. The skewers also sometimes include thick slices of scallions interspersed throughout the chicken. Yakitori traditionally comes in two flavors, salt or tare sauce. Tare sauce, also known as yakitori tare (焼き鳥のタレ, やきとりタレ), is a glaze made from soy sauce, mirin, sake, and sugar.

Taiyaki (鯛焼き, たいやき)

Taiyaki is made from a pancake or waffle batter poured into a special mold to get its classic fish shape. These fish-shaped cakes have a sweet filling usually made from red bean paste, but can include other fillings such as chocolate or custard. Taiyaki has also been modified to a cone shape, so they can work as a waffle cone and be filled with ice cream!

Kakigori (かき氷, かきごうり)

Kakigori is shaved ice flavored with syrup and condensed milk. This treat is served in a bowl and packed with a mound of towering shaved ice, which makes them an ideal treat during Japan’s hot and humid summers. The ice is similar to a snow cone, but with a fluffier, snow-like consistency. It is flavored with syrup, usually in a fruit flavor such as strawberry, melon, cherry, or even green tea. Condensed milk is poured on top to add extra sweetness. Sometimes toppings such as fruit or dango are then added on top.

Ramune (ラムネ)

Ramune is a classic sign of summer in Japan. It is a carbonated drink with a unique bottle neck that includes a glass marble. When the marble is pressed down on to open the bottle, it releases the pressure within the bottle and activates the carbonation. Ramune first came in a lemon-lime flavor and received its name from English word “lemonade.” Today, ramune comes in nearly 60 flavors!

Roasted Sweet Potato (焼き芋, やきいも)

Sweet potatoes are eaten as a common snack or street food in Japan. Sweet potatoes sold by street vendors or yatai are roasted and kept warm with hot stones. They are most commonly sold during the fall and winter festivals because they help keep you warm!

Yaki Tomorokoshi (焼きとうもろこし, やきともろこし)

Grilled corn is a summer classic around the world and Japan is no exception! Grilled corn is a common treat at summer festivals (夏祭り, なつまつり). Ears of sweet summer corn are shucked and grilled. They are then coated in a sauce made from soy sauce and/or miso.

Jagabata (じゃがバター)

じゃがバター comes from the fusion of じゃがいも (potato) and バター (butter). This self-explanatory name is used to refer to cooked potatoes with a helping of butter. It is a simple treat but is a comfort food to many. The plain potatoes are boiled or grilled, then split open and topped with a pad of butter. Some people choose to add toppings such as soy sauce or salt. These are especially popular during cherry blossom season.

Mizuame Candy and Fruit (水飴, みずあめ)

Mizuame translates to “water candy.” It is a syrup-like sweetener that is often used to coat fruit. Common fruits used are cherries, strawberries, and orange slices. The coated fruits are kept on ice to keep the mizuame from melting.

Carnival Classics

Classic treats we may see at a carnival are also available at matsuri! Cotton candy (わたあめ) is very popular at festivals, especially with kids. It can come in a bag or on a stick in multiple colors and fun shapes. Candy apples, known in Japan as りんご飴 (りんごあめ) are also very popular at festivals, especially in the summer.

Savory carnival-type foods are also available. This includes corn dogs (アメリカンドッグ –), which translates to “American dog.” Fries (フライドポテト) are also a classic! They come in a variety of styles, including tornado potatoes, which consist of a potato on a skewer cut to make a spiral shape.

25 Japanese Words to Know for Matsuri Season

25 Japanese Words to Know for Matsuri Season

The majority of Japanese festivals happen during the summer months, so summer is known as festival season in Japan! Some of Japan’s biggest festivals occur during summer, including Obon and Tanabata. Festival in Japanese is matsuri (まつり). Matsuri all celebrate different occasions and holidays, but many share some classic festivities.

One of the things matsuri are most famous for is the food! Festival food is served from yatai (屋台, やたい). Yatai are carts or stands that allow vendors to cook and sell food at the same time. Foods sold at matsuri vary throughout the year, but the most popular include dango, taiyaki, takoyaki, and yakitori.

Most matsuri feature parades of some kind. Dashi (山車, だし) floats are commonly used in parades. These floats are massive, decorated structures that can reach several stories high. They typically have wheels and are pulled along the parade route by several people. Sometimes people sit inside or on top of the floats and provide music and entertainment.

Also featured in parades are mikoshi (神輿, みこし). These are portable shrines carried through the parade route like a palanquin. They often resemble miniature buildings with ornate pillars and roofs. Mikoshi are not to be ridden on like dashi as they are sacred.

Another common parade sight are taiko drummers. Taiko (太鼓, たいこ) are traditional Japanese drums that have been used in Japan as early as the 6th century. Taiko drums are carried through the route by their drummers, who play on the drums as they walk. The drummers wear matching ensembles and work in a synchronized fashion.

Since many matsuri happen during the evening, paper lanterns are used to light them up! These paper lanterns are known as ちょちん. They have been used in Japan for centuries and are made of paper or silk around a bamboo frame. They can also be seen hanging outside businesses, temples, shrines and izakayas. Some dashi are even covered in paper lanterns!

Like any big celebration, matsuri also often include fireworks! Firework in Japanese is 花火 (はなび), which literally translates to “fire flower.”

Live entertainment is also common at matsuri. Shinto-related matsuri may feature kagura (神楽, かぐら), a traditional performance with music, dancing, and costumes. Kabuki (歌舞伎, かぶき) are another form of entertainment found often at Shinto festivals. Kabuki are dance plays put on by performers in elaborate costumes and make-up.

Matsuri began as religious celebrations, and many of them remain so. Because of this, many matsuri happen around shrines and are dedicated to the deity of that shrine. Deity in Japanese is 神 (かみ). Shrine is 神社 (じんじゃ), not to be confused with temple, which is 寺 (てら). Castles, known as 城 (じょう), are also a common place for festivals to be held.

Matsuri are a time for tradition in Japan. Because of this, festivals are one of the times of the year when kimonos (着物, きもの) are worn. Kimonos used to be typical attire in Japan. That changed in the mid-twentieth century, when Western clothing became more available. Now, festivals are sometimes the only time some people wear traditional clothing. During the hot summer months, many trade in their kimono for a lightweight version known as a yukata (浴衣, ゆかた). Wooden platform shoes known as geta (下駄, げた) are worn with kimonos. Special socks known as tabi (足袋, たび) are worn with these shoes, but can be left off when wearing a yukata.

To accompany the traditional dress, some women opt to carry a kinchaku (巾着, きんちゃく). A kinchaku is a traditional drawstring bag made of cloth. They are used to carry personal effects and money around the festival.

Depending on the matsuri, some people may wear traditional masks. These masks may be in the appearance of oni (鬼, おに), demons, or tengu (天狗, てんぐ), goblins. These masks could be worn for fun or as part of a traditional belief that they will scare off demons.

Festivals are also known for having games! Typical carnival-type games are commonly held in festival booths. One of the most famous games is goldfish scooping. Known in Japanese as 金魚すくい (きんぎょすくい), this is a traditional Japanese game that has been played for over a century. The game consists of the player using a ポイ, a handheld paddle made of paper. The player must use the paddle to scoop up as many live goldfish as they can before the water destroys the paddle. The player can then keep whatever fish they have caught as pets and the festival will provide a bag to carry them in. This game is especially popular during summer matsuri.

Super Ball Scooping (スーパーボールすくい) is a variant of goldfish scooping. The rules and techniques are the same, but instead of live goldfish, players scoop up bouncy balls. Like the fish, they can keep all the balls they manage to win.

Yo Yo Tsuri (ヨーヨーつり) is another popular summer matsuri game. The game features a pool or tub filled with small, colorful balloons. These balloons are partially filled with water to give them some weight, and a string or rubber band is tied to the end. The player is given a length of lightweight paper with a hook on the end. The player must hook a balloon and lift it up without the paper breaking.

Ring Toss is known in Japan as 輪投げ (わなげ), and it is also a common festival game, especially during the summer. Thin poles stick out of the ground or table and players toss rings in an attempt to catch them on the poles.

Shateki (射的, しゃてき) is another classic carnival game that has variations around the world. It is a target shooting game where players are given a pop-gun, which uses air to shoot out a cork when the trigger is pulled. Players shoot the cork at the targets in hopes of knocking them down. The harder the target is to knock down, the bigger and better the prize!

10 Symbols of Summer in Japanese Culture

10 Symbols of Summer in Japanese Culture

Summer, known as 夏 (なつ), is filled with tradition and culture in Japan. As a country that has hot summers, Japan has learned to adapt. Summer has become a time of fun and festivities with many ways to beat the heat! Here are some common sights in Japan during the summer months!

Matsuri (まつり)

Matsuri (まつり) is the Japanese word for festivals. While they do occur year round in Japan, summertime is festival season. Many of the country’s biggest festivals and celebrations occur during this time. Matsuri are famous for food, performances. Parades, fireworks, and games! Games including goldfish scooping, superball scooping, and yoyotsuri are common summer festival games.

Fireworks (花火, はなび)

Like many places around the world, Japan loves fireworks (花火, はなび) during the summer! Throughout the summer months, especially July and August, firework shows are common all around Japan. Some are put on just for fun while others are done to celebrate holidays and matsuri.

Cicadas (蝉, せみ)

When you hear cicadas in Japan, you know summer has started! When you are outside the noise of the big cities, you are more likely than not to hear cicadas singing. Cicadas (蝉, せみ) are insects that produce a high pitched buzzing sound. You will hear their singing during the daytime into dusk, and they fall silent by nighttime. The sound of cicadas buzzing in harmony is so noticeable and commonplace that it known as 蝉時雨 (せみしぐれ), shower of cicadas.

Furin (風鈴, ふうりん)

Furin (風鈴, ふうりん) are another sound of the summer! These are Japanese windchimes made from glass, paper, and string. A glass orb is hung on a string, usually with a paper tassel hanging from it. When the wind blows, the sting will tap against the edge of the glass and create a pleasant chime. Since Japan’s summers are so hot and humid, furin are a way for people to know a nice breeze has arrived. Furin can be seen all over Japan in the summer hanging from the eaves of homes and businesses.

Uchiwa (団扇,うちわ)

Fans have a long and important history in Japan. The uchiwa (団扇,うちわ) is a non-folding fan that is used to cool off in the heat. These fans, which are traditionally made of bamboo and paper, are a common sight during the summer. They are popular souvenirs and gifts during this time of year. It is also common to see them used in dances at summer matsuri. The fans often have patterns, illustrations, and calligraphy on them. They are sometimes even used by businesses to advertise!

Sensu (扇子, せんす) fans are also used as a means to cool off. However, these fans are more often used in performances, at temples and shrines, and in other traditions. They are sometimes even used for protection!

Higasa (日傘, ひがさ)

Higasa (日傘, ひがさ) are parasols made to block the sun. These parasols are a type of wagasa (和傘, わがさ), a Japanese umbrella made from bamboo and washi paper. They are delicate and intricately made and come in a variety of patterns and colors available. Wagasa and higasa cannot be used in the rain due to being made of paper; typical plastic umbrellas are used for rainstorms. Wagasa are also used during performances, especially by geisha.

Shochu mimai (暑中見舞い, しょちゅみまい)

Shochu mimai (暑中見舞い, しょちゅみまい) are greeting cards sent during the summer months. They are sent throughout July, all the way until August 7th. August 7th was the first day of autumn on the lunar calendar. Any card sent after the 7th to the end of August is known as zansho mimai (残照見舞い, ざんしょうみまい), or late summer greeting. Shochu mimai are sent as a way to wish friends and loved ones well during the summertime. Because Japan’s summer is so hot, the risk of heatstroke and other related illnesses is more prevalent. Shochu mimai are a way to check in on loved ones and remind them to be safe.

Yukatas (浴衣, ゆかた)

Yukatas (浴衣, ゆかた) are the clothing of the summer. They are a lightweight version of the kimono, made from thin cotton to help beat the heat. Yukatas were originally used as bathrobes and are still worn around onsen. However, yukatas are most often worn at summer festivals. Western clothing has been more popular than traditional Japanese clothing since the mid-twentieth century. So, special occasions, such as festivals, are some of the only times when yukata are worn. Kimonos and yukatas are worn with wooden platform sandals known as geta (下駄, げた). Special socks known as tabi (足袋, たび) are worn with geta, but typically not when wearing a yukata in the summer.

Kakigori (かき氷, かきごうり)

Kakigori (かき氷, かきごうり) is an iconic summer snack in Japan. This treat consists of shaved ice and flavored syrup. The ice is light and fluffy, similar to the consistency of snow, and is piled high in its dish. Kakigori syrup comes in a variety of flavors, but fruit flavors like strawberry, melon, and cherry are most common. Green tea is also a popular flavor! Condensed milk is drizzled on top for added sweetness. Other toppings such as dango, fruit, and even ice cream, are also added.

Watermelon (西瓜, スイカ)

No summer in Japan is complete without watermelon! Watermelon (西瓜, スイカ) is huge in the summer since it is such a refreshing treat. Watermelon is eaten at parties, sold by vendors, or enjoyed at home. Japan loves watermelon so much, there was even been a game invented for it! Watermelon splitting, known as suikawari (スイカ割り, スイカわり), is a game with similar rules to the piñata. For each turn, the player is blindfolded and spun around. They are given a bat and must hit the watermelon, which is laid on the ground on a sheet. Whoever hits and cracks the watermelon first wins. The watermelon is then shared among the participants. This game is especially popular at the beach, at picnics, and other similar summer events.

The Importance of Marine Day in Japanese Culture

The Importance of Marine Day in Japanese Culture

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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!

Copyright (c) 2011 Manish Prabhune via Flickr. Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

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!

Celebrating Tanabata, the Star Festival

Celebrating Tanabata, the Star Festival

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!

Try These 4 Unique Eateries in Japan!

Try These 4 Unique Eateries in Japan!

We all love food, don’t we? I bet a lot of us are huge Japanese food lovers, as well! I assume we’re all also experts on the types of Japanese food out there, so that’s why this article isn’t about that at all. We’re actually here to look at the various types of Japanese eateries you should definitely give a try. Other than your standard ramen-ya (ラメン屋, ramen shop) and kaitenzushi (回転寿司, conveyor belt sushi), there are actually loads of other types of eateries. . 

In our Season 4 Episode 3 of the Nihongo Master Podcast, we guided you through 4 unique types of Japanese eateries you can find in Japan. But don’t worry, we’ve got you covered in this blog post as well. 

Take note, and keep in mind to pop by these places when you’re travelling to Japan! 

Izakaya, The Japanese-style Pub

Image Credit: Pixabay

The first on our list is the izakaya (居酒屋). These are traditional Japanese-style pubs that are the best place to go to if you’re looking for cheap drinks and snacks. They are essentially Japanese taverns and you can find one just about anywhere. Even the neighbourhood districts have a handful of their own local izakaya.

The name literally translates to “stay alcohol shop”, so traditionally, this was a place where you could just sit around and drink. Unlike some other places where they try to “turn tables” by rushing customers out, in an izakaya, they won’t ever do that. It’s literally in their name and the basic Japanese etiquette. You’re allowed to just chill and have a couple of beers. 

The most common type of food that you usually get at an izakaya is yakitori (焼き鳥), which are meat skewers. And if I must say so myself, they go great with a beer or cocktail. But if you don’t fancy that, there are other side dishes like chips and a small portion of noodles.

Ryotei & Kappo

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This next type of Japanese eatery is a lot more traditional than the previous: the ryotei (料亭) and kappo (割烹). 

A ryotei (料亭) is typically a high-end restaurant where guests can savour washoku (和食, Japanese cuisine) in private tatami rooms. Some ryotei date back to the early 17th century! Every little detail in the room is taken into account, from architecture to the decoration. Back in the day, this type of restaurant was used for feudal lords to meet with trusted subordinates in private. Even now, businessmen and politicians would have banquets and hold meetings behind the ryotei’s closed doors.

Kappo (割烹) literally translates to “cutting and cooking”. At a kappo restaurant, you usually sit at a bar counter and can observe the chef’s preparation. You can make special requests for what dishes you want or go for the “omakase” (お任せ), which means you leave it up to the chef to decide.

There’s a level of exclusivity for some ryotei and kappo restaurants. Sometimes, you can’t walk in or make reservations. You have to be invited by someone who’s already an existing guest.

Cook-It-Yourself Eateries

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This next category is the cook-it-yourself type of restaurant. You can already guess what you do at this restaurant. Yup, you cook the food yourself. Some might not like the idea of it, because if they want to cook, they’ll do it at home. If they dine out, they want it served to them. But trust me on this when I say you would want to try this type of eatery when in Japan. Don’t you want to experience Japanese culture? 

There are a few ones you should try. The first one is a yakiniku (焼肉) restaurant. Yakiniku is translated to “grilled meat”. Originally, it referred to western barbecue food. Later on, it moved on to refer to Korean food. Today, yakiniku refers to a style of cooking bite-sized meat and vegetables on griddles over a flame of wood charcoal. It’s now known as Japanese barbecue.

Another restaurant in the cook-it-yourself category is nabe (鍋), which means hot pot. It’s a broad category that consists of all types of hot pot dishes. Usually, nabemono is served during the colder seasons, but there are some chain restaurants offering it all year round. People sit around a table with a pot usually filled with soup and throw in whatever they like. Most of the time it’s meat, veggies and noodles. When it’s cooked, they scoop it out into their bowl.

There are so many types of nabemono (鍋物), but my favourite is shabu shabu (しゃぶしゃぶ). This is thinly sliced meat and vegetables are boiled in a pot of soup, and then afterwards dipped in a dipping sauce before eating. It’s a must-try when you travel to Japan!

Family Restaurants

Image Credit: WIkipedia Commons

Last but not least on our list, we have family restaurants. These are just casual dining restaurants which cater to people of all ages, but specifically families with children, hence the name. The big-name ones include Japan are Gusto, Johnathans and Denny’s.

Family restaurants are usually inexpensive — a meal can range from 500 yen (USD5) to 2,000 yen (USD20). I have never spent more than 2,000 yen at a family restaurant in my years of living in Japan.

One of the best things about this type of eatery is that they’re pretty convenient to dine in, especially for foreigners since everything on the menu has pictures to accompany it or an English menu. You have everything from the typical Japanese dishes like curry rice and donburi (丼物, rice bowls) to Western dishes like pasta and hamburgers.

My favourite part of a family restaurant is the drink bar. Unfortunately, it’s not an alcoholic drink bar. They’re all non-alcoholic beverages including soft drinks, juices, coffee and tea. There is a range of alcoholic drinks, though. Some outlets have happy hour deals where beers go as cheap as 200 yen!

Vocab Recap

Here’s a recap of the new vocabulary words we used in the podcast episode:

Yakitori (焼き鳥) — meat skewers 

Osusume (おすすめ) — recommendation 

Kanpai (乾杯) — Cheers!

Washoku (和食) — Japanese cuisine 

Omakase (お任せ) — I leave it up to the chef

Yakiniku (焼き肉) — grilled meat

Nabe or nabemono (鍋・鍋物) — hot pot dishes 

Shabu shabu (しゃぶしゃぶ) — a type of hotpot dish

Youshoku (養食) — Western cuisine 

dorinku bā (ドリンクバー) — drink bar

Eat Your Heart Away!

One of the best things about travelling is trying new things. Japanese culture has lots to offer, and eateries are part of them! I highly recommend trying them out when you find yourself in Japan soon! Check out the full episode on the Nihongo Master Podcast, as well as other similar topics, if you’re interested to know more about Japanese culture and language!

Top 4 Activities On Your Japan Travel Bucket List!

Top 4 Activities On Your Japan Travel Bucket List!

As the world slowly opens up again, we’re hoping Japan is going to open up its borders, too. In fact, there are rumours that we might be able to travel for leisure to the Land of the Rising Sun as soon as the end of the year! 

So to get yourself prepared for your adventure to Japan, why not create a Japan travel bucket list? 

I’m sure you’ve read tons of articles online about this. There’s the standard “visit these specific places” and “eat local food”, and the list goes on to more than 50 things to do! Boy, we don’t all have the time in the world to read or do that! So that’s not what we’re going to do in this article.

Instead, our Japan travel basic bucket list has only 4 activities! It’s the most basic of lists, but a really good one, if I do say so myself. 

#1: Balance City & Nature  

Image Credit: Unsplash

The first on your Japan bucket list is balancing city and nature. Most of us think of the bright lights and neon signs of Tokyo when thinking about travelling to Japan. But keep in mind that this island nation is huge! There’s literally so much more to Japan than the Shibuya Scramble and Asakusa’s Sensoji.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t visit Tokyo. In fact, Tokyo is lovely and a city that will always have a place in my heart. But you should definitely spread out your time across the mainland rather than just one city. 

Venture out to the rural areas and you’ll discover a whole other side of the country. You don’t even have to go so far. Even just a quick one to two-hour drive out of Tokyo to Yamanashi. You’d be surprised at the world of difference these two areas have. 

If going from one end of the stick to another is too extreme for you, then pick the middle ground: a suburban area, like Kawasaki and Chiba. Alternatively, you could kill two birds with one stone and pop by the mountainous town of Hakone. This is just an hour’s train ride from Tokyo. You can not only venture out of the city zone but also experience local hot springs and the beautiful nature all year round.

2: Drown in Spirituality

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The next thing on the bucket list you need to do in Japan is drowning yourself in spirituality. Scattered around the country are shrines and temples. Even with a walk down the street your accommodation is at, you can come across a few local ones.

During your time here, never stop visiting these holy grounds. If you’re visiting various cities, visit a few of them in each one. There are some uphills, making you work for the view. There are others with hidden caves where you can pray for a deep desire. There was one shrine that I went to in Fukuoka called Dazaifu Tenman-gu Shrine. It had a small cave but I had to really find it, though. It’s believed that if you make a wish in that cave, it’ll definitely come true. A friend of a friend wished to be married and the year after she went there, she actually did!

If you’re not sure whether the holy grounds you’re at is a temple or a shrine, look out for torii. This is a traditional Japanese gate that’s usually red. It marks the transition of mundane to sacred ground. If you see one before entering the grounds, then it’s a shrine.

3: Immerse in Culture

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The third on our Japan travel bucket list is to immerse yourself in culture. Every city that you go to will be sure to have a museum. The Land of the Rising Sun has quite a story to tell, even about the times when it wasn’t known as Nippon. While you can read about them online, these museums have information that you can’t find anywhere else. There are also artefacts that you can see with your own very eyes. 

There’s a variety of indoor and outdoor museums for you to discover. Some even have cafes for a short break in between your learning journey. If you go to outdoor ones, they might even have a foot bath!

I understand that not everyone’s interested in walking around staring at figures. If you’re not such a huge fan of history, then go to an art gallery instead. Japan is rich in art, from paintings to fashion. Take your pick of permanent and temporary exhibitions, featuring legendary local and international artists and designers.

4: Drink Your Hearts Out!

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And last but definitely not least on our bucket list: drink your hearts out! While there are lots of local delicacies, not many talk about the drinking culture. Get your fill of all the alcoholic drinks this country has to offer. Different cities have local breweries as well, so you can go on a beer tasting trip around the nation!

If you’re short on time and can’t afford to hop from city to city, don’t worry, your local bar by the accommodation has you covered. There’s everything from the standard draft beer to cocktails. In fact, some places have nomihodai (飲み放題), an all-you-can-drink deal. This is where you can… drink all you want! For a certain amount of time, of course, and for a bargain price!

Vocab Recap

In our Season 4 Episode 1 of the Nihongo Master Podcast, we have more fun facts and details of a Japan travel bucket list. In that episode, we introduced new vocabulary words. Here’s a list of them for your reference:

Toshi (都市) — city

Inaka (田舎) — countryside or rural

Kougai (郊外) — suburban

Shizen (自然) — nature

Jinja (神社) — shrine. Another way to call a shrine is jingu (神宮)

Otera (お寺) — temple

Taisha (退社) — grand shrine

Torii (鳥居) — the red gate

Omikuji (おみくじ) — fortune slip

Hakubutsukan (博物館) — museum

Bijutsukan (美術館) — art gallery

Sake (酒) — alcoholic drinks

Nihonshu (日本酒) — Japanese rice wine

Nama bēru (生ビール) — draft beer

Kokuteru (コクテール) — cocktail 

Nomikai (飲み会) — drinking party

Nomihōdai (飲み放祭) — all-you-can-drink

Create Your Japan Travel Bucket List Now!

What did I tell ya? Our bucket list might be basic, but it’s still extensive. It’s going to get you doing the things you can only do in Japan. What are you excited to do first? Let us know!

Also, tune in to the Nihongo Master Podcast for more content like this, as well as fun and quick Japanese grammar lessons.

Basic Japanese Grammar: Step-By-Step Guide to the て-Form!

Basic Japanese Grammar: Step-By-Step Guide to the て-Form!

One of the most important conjugations in the Japanese language is the te (て) form. You need it for a lot of other conjugations. So if you don’t master the te form, you can’t really get into a lot of other grammar points.

In our Season 4 Episode 13 of the Nihongo Master Podcast, we decided to break down the basics of the te-form. When I was studying Japanese on my own, I remember this being one of the most difficult points to wrap my head around. But hey, my past struggle is now for your benefit, because I’ll break it down nice and easy for you! 

The way this recap article, as well as the original podcast episode, is structured is exactly like Nihongo Master’s online learning system – grammar point explanation and breakdown, a few example situations (only on the podcast), and ending it off with a very handy list of all the vocabulary words we used. So if you like our breakdowns on the blog and podcast, sign up for our program now!

Image Credit: Wikipedia Commons

Grammar Point

Oh, the te-form, my old friend. This is without a doubt one of the most important conjugations in Japanese grammar. Without the te-form, you won’t be able to really grasp some of the other Japanese grammar. It’s kind of like a level up token. As soon as you master this, you go from speaking short simple sentences to flawlessly and fluidly expressing your thoughts in clauses. 

Let’s first take a look at how to conjugate the te form.

Te Form Format

The te form has a different format for different types of words. We’ll take a look at verbs first.

Ru Verbs

For ru (る) verbs, they’re pretty simple. You first remove the ending ru (る) and then add te (て). The format is:

Ru verb (minus る) + て

Let’s use “taberu” (食べる) which is a ru verb. All you have to do is switch the ending ru with te:

食べる = 食べ = 食べて

U Verbs

How about u () verb conjugations then? U verbs can be a little confusing, so we’ll take it slow here. I’ll make the breakdown simple:

U-verb that ends with ru (る), tsu (つ) and u (う), you take the ending letter with the sound of u (う) and add tte (って). The format is:

U verb (minus ending う sound) + って

Examples: 

乗る (noru) = 乗 (no) = 乗って (notte)

待つ (matsu) = 待 (mat) = 待って (matte)

会う (au) = 会 (a) = 会って (atte)

U-verb that ends with nu (ぬ), bu (ぶ) and mu (む), you take the ending letter with the sound of u (う) and add tte (んで). The format is:

U verb (minus ending う sound) + んで

Examples:

死ぬ (shinu) = 死 (shi) = 死んで (shinde)

遊ぶ (asobu) = 遊 (aso) = 遊んで (asonde)

飲む (nomu) = 飲 (no) = 飲んで (nonde)

U-verb that ends with ku (く),  you take the ending letter with the sound of u (う) and add tte (いて). The format is:

U verb (minus ending う sound) + いて

Example:

書く (kaku) = 書 (ka) = 書いて (kaite)

U-verb that ends with gu (ぐ),  you take the ending letter with the sound of u (う) and add tte (いで). The format is:

U verb (minus ending う sound) + いで

Example:

泳ぐ (oyogu) = 泳 (oyo) = 泳いで (oyoide)

U-verb that ends with su (す), you take the ending letter with the sound of u (う) and add tte (して). The format is:

U verb (minus ending う sound) + して

Example:

話す (hanasu) = 話 (hana) = 話して (hanashite)

There are exceptions known as irregular verbs: 

To do: する(suru) =して (shite)

To come: くる(kuru) = きて (kite)

To go: 行く (iku) = 行って (itte)

い Adjectives

Conjugating i-adjectives to its te-form is simple. You take the ending i (い) and add kute (くて). The format is:

I-adjective (minus い) + くて

美味しい (oishii) = 美味し (oishi) = 美味しくて (oishikute)

Nouns & な Adjectives

Getting the te form for nouns and na-adjectives are the same. You just add de () after the word. The format is:

Noun + で

Na-adjective (without な) + で

日本人 (nihonjin) = 日本人で (nihonjin de)

簡単な (kantanna) = 簡単 (kantan) = 簡単で (kantan de)

Ways of using the te form

So what exactly does the te-form do? There are five ways:

Permission

The first way is to ask and give permission with te mo ii (てもいい). It’s like saying “is it okay to…?” Check out our recap article or Season 4 Episode 11 of the podcast to learn more. In short, the format is:

Verb te form + もいい

Connect sentences

The next way of using the te form is by using it as a simple conjunction. Instead of saying “I did A. I did B”, you’ll be able to say “I did A and B” with the te-form. 

Let’s have an easy example: “I ate pizza and drank coffee.”

You can say it as “ピザを食べた。コーヒーを飲んだ。” (piza wo tabeta. Kōhī wo nonda.) But this translates to “I ate pizza. I drank coffee. To have the “and” in the middle, you use the te-form to get: ピザを食べてコーヒを飲んだ。(piza wo tabete kōhī wo nonda.)

Command

The third way to use the te-form is by using it as a simple command. If you want to politely command someone to sit, like “hey, sit down”, just conjugate the word for “to sit” (座る) into its te-form: 座って (suwatte).

But a command to not do something gets tricky: you first have to change the word to its negation and then add a “de”. The format is:

Negative verb (without い) + で

To say “don’t sit down”, you say it as 座らないで (suwaranaide)

It’s different from the negative form of the te-form, which can’t be used as a command. For the negated te-form, whether it’s verbs or adjectives, all you have to do is negate the word first, then change the ending nai (ない) to nakute (なくて). 

Negative verb (minus い) + くて

Example:

食べる (taberu) = 食べない (tabenai) = 食べなくて (tabenakute) 

Express reason or a means

The fourth way to use the te form is to express a reason or a means. It’s like saying “so” or “because”. While you can use the particle kara (から) for “because”, this is another way to say it. 

Let’s have this example: “I saw some really cheap shoes, so I bought them.”

You could use “kara”, like 靴が安いから買った。(kutsu ga yasui kara katta). But you could also conjugate the i-adjective: 靴が安くて買った。(kutsu ga yasukute katta).

Present Participle

Our final way of using te-form is by combining it with iru (いる) to make te iru(ている) , the present participle. 

Verb (て form) + いる

To say “I’m watching TV”, you say it as “テレビを見ている。”(terebi wo miteiru)

Vocab Recap

In the podcast episode, we have roleplaying scenarios that exemplify this grammar point. Since we used a lot of new words, here’s a list for your reference:

Noru (乗る) – to ride

matsu (待つ) – to wait

au (会う) – to meet

kaku (書く) – to write

oyogu (泳ぐ) – to swim

hanasu (話す) – to speak

kutsu (靴) – shoes

yasui (安い) – cheap

yu-mei (有名) – famous 

miru(見る)  – to see

hima (暇) – free time

eigakan (映画館) – cinema. eiga (映画) is movie, kan (館) is building

kaimono (買い物) – shopping

mise (店) – shop

Nanji (何時) – what time

Ame ga furu (雨が降る) – to rain

Kasa (傘) – umbrella

Motsu (持つ) – to bring 

tatsu (立つ) – to stand up

suwaru (座る) – to sit

sugu (すぐ) – immediately

shigoto (仕事) – work

taihen (大変) – difficult

hirugohan (昼ごはん) – lunch

isogashii (忙しい) – busy

nomisugiru (飲みすぎる) – to drink a lot

ochitsuku (落ち着く) – to calm down

yameru (止める) – to stop

hanasu (話す) – to speak

shuumatsu (週末) – weekend

Conjugate the Te Form Like A Pro!

Okay, that’s pretty loaded. So, can we all agree that the te-form is one of the most useful grammars in Japanese? Let’s have a short recap to conclude what was discussed in the article and podcast episode:

Te form is used in 5 ways:

  • to give and ask permission by adding もいい to make てもいいi
  • As a simple conjunction
  • As a simple command (for the positive te-form only)
  • To express a reason
  • To form present participle by adding いる to make ている

To conjugate verbs into te-form, figure out if its a ru or u verb.

With る-verbs, the ending る is replaced with て.

With u-verbs,

Those ending with る, つ or う have their final syllable replaced with って.

Those ending with ぬ, ぶ and む have their final syllable replaced with んで.

Those ending with く have their final syllable replaced with いて. 

Those ending with ぐ have their final syllable replaced with いで.

Those ending with す have their final syllable replaced with して. 

To conjugate adjectives, i-adjectives just have the い change to くて, and な-adjectives have the な changed to で.

To conjugate nouns, add で.

The negated te-form is achieved just by negating the word (both verb and adjective) and then having the ない changed to なくて.

Phew. What’s the toughest part of this conjugation for you? If you need a bit more practice, check out the full podcast episode on the Nihongo Master Podcast! Or even better, get a subscription with us and you can practice the te form as much as you want! 

Sanja Matsuri: What Is It and How to Celebrate?

Sanja Matsuri: What Is It and How to Celebrate?

Summer is one of the most anticipated seasons worldwide. In Japan, as well, many look forward to the warmer weather. Summer in Japan is one of the most exciting times of the year.

One festival that kicks off the start of the summer season in Japan is the Sanja Matsuri, taking place in May. This takes place at the capital city Tokyo over a three-day period. Both locals and tourists alike clear up their schedule to attend this big occasion. 

In this article, we’ll take a look at what exactly Sanja Matsuri is, how it came about and how you can celebrate it like a local!

What is Sanja Matsuri?

One of the biggest festivals in all of Japan takes place in Tokyo at the start of May. This festival is called the Sanja Festival (三社祭, Sanja Matsuri). This annual festival can be found in the Asakusa district and almost two million visit the neighborhood over the three days this festival is held. 

The Sanja Matsuri is held to celebrate the three founders of Sensoji Temple, one of the oldest temples in the country. About a hundred portable shrines known as the mikoshi (神輿) are paraded around the 44 districts of the neighbourhood by participants that carry them on their shoulders. These shrines are believed to have Shinto deities placed in them and they’re brought around to spread luck and fortune to people and businesses. Out of the hundreds of shrines, there are three big ones, which belong to the Asakusa Shrine next to Sensoji. 

The paraded mikoshi will be bounced up and down and thrown side to side. This motion is known as tamafuri (球ふり) and has been done for centuries. If it’s done at a festival, the locals believe they will be blessed in terms of great harvests and improved health.

Other than the parade of shrines, food and drinks stalls as well as entertainment stalls are set up on the streets. Music of Japanese drums and flutes are also performed to accompany this parade of shrines.

What the participants of the event wear

One of the highlights of this festival is the cool things that the participants wear. There are a few different mikoshi teams, and each team wears a different hanten (反転) coat. This is a short traditional coat that is thicker than a normal one. That’s because the participants have to carry the shrine on their shoulders. 

Underneath the coat, they wear the fundoshi (褌). This is a traditional Japanese undergarment that adds support and comfort.

The outfit is topped off with a traditional tabi (たび). This is a special kind of boot. Put on a hachimaki (鉢巻) headband and they’re good to go. 

When is Sanja Matsuri? 

The Sanja Matsuri is usually held in the third weekend of the month for three days (Friday to Sunday).

In 2022, the Sanja Matsuri was held from May 21st to May 22nd. However, because of the pandemic, it was on a reduced scale with only the three mikoshi paraded around. Instead of three days, it was only two days this year.

History of Sanja Matsuri 

Image Credit: Wikipedia Creative Commons

The Sanja Matsuri is one of three great Shinto festivals in Tokyo. Some believe the festival started taking place in 1649. This was when the Shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu ordered the construction of Asakusa Shrine. Some others believe the celebration has been going on since 1312, but it was only every other year until 1649.

The shrine is dedicated to brothers Takenari and Hamanari Hinokuma, as well as their friend, Matsuchi Hajino. These three people, known as “Sanja-sama”, established the Sensoji Temple in 628. 

How to Celebrate Sanja Matsuri 

Image Credit: Wikipedia Creative Commons

It’s okay if you missed the Sanja Matsuri in 2022, since the borders have yet to open fully. Not to fret, it’s the best time to prepare for the festival in 2023. So let’s take a look at what exactly goes down in the three days so we can learn how to celebrate the festival like a local!

Friday – Day 1 

On Friday, the first day of the festival, the head priest of Asakusa Shrine performs a ritual to invite spirits of the Sanja-samba into the three big mikoshi. At 1PM, temple priests, city officials, geishas, musicians and dancers wear traditional costumes and walk through the streets of Asakusa.

Afterwards they head to the shrine for a brief Shinto ceremony. They pray and dancers perform the binzasaramai (びんざさらまい) dance that’s accompanied by traditional Japanese percussion instruments (びんざさら, binzasara).

Then, in the late afternoon, the giant mikoshi are paraded through the streets. This is the best time to get up close and personal with the mikoshi as the crowd won’t be as big on this day. 

Saturday – Day 2

The second day of the festival kicks off at noon with about a hundred small mikoshi carried throughout the neighbourhood. These are neighbourhood mikoshi. Each mikoshi has their own team of about 60 people carrying it and cheering in unison to each other. People shout “wasshoi! Wasshoi!” to encourage the crowd and each other.

These mikoshi include small ones for children. Kids of all ages and sizes can participate in this. Even toddlers can play with the taiko drums that are mounted on a cart! If you’re going to the festival with kids, this can be an enjoyable and interactive experience for your family.

At the end of this day, the teams gather at Asakusa Shrine and end their day with drinks.

Sunday – Day 3

The last day starts in the morning at 6AM. At the shrine, the teams from the previous day gather and some get to carry the big three mikoshi. It’s very competitive among the teams for who gets to carry the mikoshi. Because of that, visitors aren’t allowed to observe this.

By 8AM, they depart the shrine and travel around Asakusa in separate routes and return back to the shrine in the evening at 6 or 7PM. Sometimes the remaining small mikoshi of the teams from the previous day will parade around as well. 

Celebrate with food 

One of the main highlights of this festival for many people is the food. This is available at stalls on the streets of the neighbourhood. You get your typical yakisoba (焼きそば, fried noodles) and yakitori (焼き鳥, meat skewers). 

But you definitely can’t miss out on Asakusa-exclusive delicacies like kibi-dango Azuma (吉備団子あずま), known to date back over two centuries ago. This is made out of millet powder and sweet rice, then coated with soybean flour. 

Let’s celebrate this Shinto event!

Doesn’t this festival sound like so much fun? Why don’t you plan your Japan trip next year to include attending this event? 

If you like this kind of content, check out the Nihongo Master Podcast. We discuss fun and exciting facts about Japanese culture, as well as offer bite-sized grammar points!