| Japan is country of contrasts; the nation has been in existence for over 2,000 years, yet as one of the world’s most modern countries it is amazing that many of their most ancient festivals continue to thrive in modern times.
Before organized religion came into existence, the people of this land worshiped what they considered to be the spirits of the mountains, trees and water. Farmers would pray to the gods of rain to water their crops and fishermen would pray to the gods of the ocean for safe passage and abundance of fish. Today, as one of the most industrialized nations in the world, the people of Japan have not forgotten the ancient traditions that these early worship rituals created. There are celebrations for their history, festivals to welcome the change of seasons, for the children, and to pay homage to ancestors. There are festivals to welcome good spirits and ward off bad ones. They are held during all seasons and all locations and are magnets for young and old to gather together and enjoy all that is Japanese.
One of the most widely practiced celebration in Japan is the New Year celebration, which not only includes public gatherings at local shrines but also rituals of food, gift giving and special decorations in each home. A detailed description of this special day in Japanese culture can be read in our December 2007 newsletter which focuses only on this festive observance.With so many celebrations from which to choose, we have selected some of the most famous and endearing of them all.
Setsubun, is a famous celebration that is held on either February 3rd or 4th depending on the Chinese calendar. The word setsubun means the “end of the season”, so there are four setsubun in a year. The end of the season that is celebrated is the end of winter, with mamemaki or dried soybean throwing from the home. “Oni wa soto!” or “devil goes out” is shouted as the beans are thrown from the front entrance of the home. “Fuku wa uchi” or “good luck in the house” is shouted as beans are thrown from the outside in. Most of the children and even some of the adults will wear a devil mask as they throw beans at each other and have a fun time. As an incentive to clean up and for good fortune, everyone is encouraged to eat one bean for each year of their life, plus one for good luck. This fun filled celebration also is a sign that winter is over, as the next day is called “Risshun”, or the first day of spring.
The fifth of May is a very special holiday that has evolved in what is now called Kodomo no Hi, or Children’s Day. This festival used to be called Tango no Sekku, or Boy’s Day. In 1948, the Japanese government made it a national holiday and included girls. On this day and the days preceding it, most homes in Japan will fly flags and banners shaped like koi fish, or Japanese carp outside their homes. Each family will fly a carp or two or three outside their homes, the number depending upon the number of sons in that family. The reason that the carp is chosen is because it is symbolic for toughness. The koi fish are likened to the samurai warriors of generations past; they fear nothing, swim upstream, and never give up on their journeys.
The Iris flowers are used extensively in shrines, businesses and homes to celebrate this holiday. It is believed that the Iris flower is much like the samurai sword, standing straight and proud. You will find many Iris themed items available at Mrs.LinsKitchen; ranging from origami prints, incense scents, chopstick and plate and bowls and so much more that make great gifts and can additionally make a lovely statement of strength and beauty in your home. During this celebration, Japanese homes will also display beautiful hand made dolls of samurai warriors, or gorgeous Japanese girls in kimonos to honor the future of their families, their children. Our Japanese Imperial Warrior Doll or Boy and Girl Doll Set would be perfect for use in celebrating the children in your life in your home here in the states.
Obon is a summer celebration in Japan that is celebrated from August 13 through August 16th when the spirits of ancestors are believed to return for a short visit to the world of the living. Most Japanese citizens will use this major block of time to take their summer vacations which include visiting home towns and taking part in various celebrations. Businesses will close and many people will choose to go on a holiday vacation during this annual event. Japanese men, women and children will wear a cotton kimono called a Yukata to big gatherings hosted by various shrines and temples where big taiko drums bang out the rhythm to for simple group dances called Bon-odori.
Before the festivities begin, most families will have visited the family grave to clean them and place flowers and incense as offerings to their ancestors. The festive dinners that are prepared will often include the favorite foods of their dearly departed. Paper lanterns are lit on the last night of the festival, in order to light the way back home for the spirits of their ancestors. Mrs.LinsKitchen makes it easy for those of us in the west to participate in this lovely celebration by gathering a lovely selection of paper lanterns. Our Red and Black Floral Lantern or Peacock Beauty Floral Lantern are perfect for this ritual, and can also be used to decorate your patio or strung through your trees for a festive mood.
In our world of less borders and more diversity, it is interesting and fun to learn of other cultures and their celebrations. At Mrs.LinsKitchen we make it easy for you to participate in many Japanese celebrations, from the comfort of your home.
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Bring a Touch of Asia to your Western Home
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