It’s that time of the year again: flowers blossom, birds are chirping and the sun is melting away the remains of the past winter. Spring is here!
The first warm months are especially beautiful in Japan. You probably already know of the famous cherry blossoms that draw millions of people out of their houses and into the nearest parks. But spring has much more to offer than pink trees. In Japan, many festivals are celebrated this time of the year and today we want to highlight a few of them.
Even if it is still cold where you live, take the time and enjoy our trip into the midst of Japanese spring festivals.
Doll Festival (March 3)
The first festival on this list has actually already passed. It’s hinamatsuri, called Doll’s Day or Girls’ Day, celebrated on March 3.
This practice started in the Edo Period (1603 – 1868) where dolls made from straw were released on small boats to take away evil spirits or bad energy. Nowadays, only a few boats are actually released and many are caught straight away so they don’t cause problems for local fishermen. What remains, however, are the beautiful dolls that are displayed all over Japan on this day.
Families will display their Emperor and Empress dolls on special altars and make offerings in the form of rice cakes and flowers. But be careful: the dolls should be removed as soon as the festival is over otherwise superstition says that the daughter of the family will marry late.
Showa Day (April 29)
What comes next in the Japanese calendar is Showa Day on April 29.
It is the birthday celebration of the Showa Emperor Hirohito who reigned over Japan from 1926 to 1989. The Showa Period was a turbulent one for Japan since it includes both the Second World War as well as the Great Depression. That is why this day is used to remember the difficult past of Japan and honor all those who made sacrifices for the greater good of the country.
As dark as this holiday might sound, it is actually the start of one of the most loved times of the Japanese calendar: Golden Week!
Golden Week marks the time between Showa Day and Children’s Day and is filled with numerous different celebrations. Students and office workers alike love Golden Week since it gives them a well-deserved break from their busy schedules.
The first holiday after Showa Day is Constitution Memorial Day which – you might have already guessed it – marks the enactment of the Japanese Constitution on 3 May 1947. The very next day is Greenery Day which was originally celebrated together with Hirohito’s birthday, but was moved to May 4 as its own independent holiday. In theory, this day should be spent in nature while being thankful for all of our blessings. In practice, however, it is just another day of Golden Week.
The final celebration of Golden Week is Children’s Day on May 5 (the fifth day of the fifth month). The name says it all: on this day you honor the unique personalities of children and celebrate their happiness. Children’s Day is famous for its koinobori that you might know from photographs. These long wind socks that look like carps swimming in the sky represent families and are put up in hopes of a long and good future for the child.
We couldn’t write a post about spring celebrations in Japan without mentioning hanami, could we?
The annual cherry blossoming in Japan belongs as much to the nation’s image as sushi and sumo wrestling. What makes this holiday so special is the fact that you can never predict exactly when the fragile flowers will open. Also, the whole spectacle only lasts for a couple of days and the petals will soon cover the ground rather than the trees. That is why families love to go out and eat underneath these beautiful trees while thinking about the transience of things.
A beautiful sight, isn’t it?
Spring festivals are just the beginning of a long year filled with even more beautiful and unique Japanese festivals. However, these holidays are especially popular since they mark the end of a long and cold winter and celebrate the beginning of a new year. Since the Japanese school year starts in April and not around September like in many Western countries, this time of the year is truly a symbol for new beginnings.
What is your favorite Japanese spring festival? Share your experiences and opinions in the comment section down below.