Travel, Teach, Live in Japan
For a Westerner to start gaining an understanding as to what makes Japan tick, a good place to start is with a study of Japanese festivals and holidays. As with any country, watching people celebrate the things that matter most to them - as well as watching how they celebrate - offers a telling view into the soul of its people.
If you plan to spend some time in Japan in the near future - and if your timing is right - you should plan to experience and observe one or more of these 5 popular festivals and holidays:
1. Obon (summer):
This traditional Japanese festival is meant to remember one's ancestors who are now deceased. It takes place from July 13-15 in most places in Japan (and August 13-15 in some places). A Buddhist tradition, Obon participants believe that the spirits of our ancestors return to visit us during this time. To celebrate Obon, the Japanese light lanterns and hang them in front of their homes. In some areas, lanterns are floated on bodies of water such as rivers, whereby they symbolically guide the ancestors back to the spirit world at the end of the festival.
2. Tanabata (summer):
Tanabata is a festival that can be seen taking place throughout Japan on July 7 (or August 7 in some places). Participants write their wishes onto pieces of paper and hang them onto special bamboo trees in the hopes that the wishes will come true.
3. New Year (late December/early January):
If your travel plans take you to Japan at the time of the advent of the new year, you will get to experience Japanese shogatsu, or New Year. This is a big domestic travel time of the year in Japan, with most people taking time off to see their families. It officially takes place from January 1 through January 3, although when it coincides with weekends people take about a week off in many cases. During this time of year, people also eat special traditional foods.
4. Doll's Festival (March):
Called the Girl's Festival or Doll's Festival, the hina matsuri takes place on March 3. It is meant to wish little girls a successful life. To celebrate, dolls are arranged together with peach blossoms at the homes of the girls. Special sake and sushi are consumed by the families during the festival.
5. White Day (March):
In Japan, Valentine's day involves women presenting gifts of chocolate to men. The gifts can carry with them different types of meaning, including signifying love, courtesy or just social obligation. To complement Valentine's Day, Japan has established another holiday: White Day. On this day, the male receiver of chocolates returns the favor - usually in the form of more expensive gifts - to the females. White Day gifts might include jewelry, white lingerie, white chocolate, or marshmallows.
Check out these 5 Japanese festivals and holidays the next time you are in Japan. By doing so, you will gain deeper insights into their culture.