There are several kinds of festivals in Japan. Some are celebrated on fixed dates, and some are celebrated for several days. Japanese festivals are usually marked by very colorful displays of palaquins and floats, and the streets are expected to be lined with numerous food stalls.
These celebrations are usually held in honor of a kami, or a Shinto god. Shinto, or “the way of the gods” is Japan’s primary religion aside from Buddhism. Its festivals are celebrated, mostly, to show the kami this world. The kami are carried around in decorated palaquins by specially dressed people. Apart from processions like this, there are dramatic performances and a lot of feasting. Shinto festivals are also referred to as matsuri. Each matsuri is held for a particular shrine, and given the countless shrines in Japan, several celebrations are held throughout the year.
Among these numerous occasions to celebrate are the following well-known festivals:
Shogatsu, or New Year’s Day, is considered as the most important holiday in Japan. Shogatsu signifies a fresh start, which means leaving the previous year’s worries and problems behind. “Year-Forgetting parties” are commonly celebrated to highlight the occasion.
During shogatsu, it has been a tradition to visit the shrines to pay respects to the gods and to pray for good fortune for the new year.
SEIJIN NO HI
Seijin No Hi is also known as the Coming of Age festival. This is for people who are turning 20 years old for the year, which is their transition into adulthood. At the legal age of 20, Japanese people are allowed to vote, to drink, and to smoke, since they are now in the age of majority. During this festival, people being welcomed into adulthood wear formal dresses or kimonos.
The start of spring is signified by the Setsubun festival. At this time, people perform rituals which invite happiness and prosperity into their homes and temples, and drive out evil from them. Normally, roasted beans are thrown around the houses and shrines while driving out the devil and calling in happiness, after which, the number of beans which correspond to one’s age is picked up and eaten.
Hina Matsuri is also known as the Doll Festival or Girls’ Festival. It has its roots from Chinese practices wherein bad luck is transferred to a doll and the doll is thrown into a river. In Japan, this is especially meaningful for those with daughters in their families. They wish their daughters good luck and long happy lives.
KODOMO NO HI
Komodo No Hi is much like the male counterpart of Hina Matsuri. This is also known as the Boys’ Festival. On this occasion, sons are wished good health, success, and strength. Samurai dolls are displayed for this.
On the 7th day of the 7th month, Tanabata or the “Star Festival” is celebrated in honor of the stars Vega and Altair, who were separated by the Milky Way, but were able to meet each other. A popular practice during this time is for one to write down wishes on a piece of paper and hang it on a bamboo tree, hoping that they will come true.
Obon commemorates all the deceased ancestors of the family. Once a year, these ancestors are believed to come back to this world to visit the relatives they have left behind.
A festival is also held for the children – shichigosan, which means seven-five-three. Girls aged three and seven and boys aged three and five are wished well with good health and growth. These children also visit the Shrine wearing their kimonos, usually their first one.