Japanese holidays and festivals in June

Japanese festivities during June

During the month of June, no Japanese national holidays take place. But, no stress, there are three nice Japanese festivals instead. Join us and celebrate the different festivals that take place in Japan during the month of June.

Atsuta Festival or Atsuta Matsuri (熱田祭)

This Japanese festival takes place on the 5th of June in Nagoya and is held at the Atsuta Jingu Shrine. This shrine is seen as one of the most sacred shrines in Japan and has more than 9 million visitors annually. It is believed that Kusanagi, the holy sword of the  Emperor and one of the three Imperial regalia, is kept here. During this festival, you can see a wide range of traditional Japanese arts such as taiko (Japanese drums), kendo (a Japanese sport with bamboo swords) and traditional dance. The festival starts at 10 a.m. at the shrine itself with a beautiful ceremony dedicated to the deities of the shrine and during the day you can see the Japanese arts. At night, the precinct around the shrine turns into a fair that has small stalls with food, beautiful lanterns and even a firework show at the end. However, the most popular attraction during this Japanese festival are the five Kento Makawari, huge floats that are decorated with lanterns and that are placed near the torii of the shrine.

Japanese parade

The parade!

Sannō Festival or Sannō Matsuri (山王祭)

This festival takes place in every year with an even number in the middle of June at Tokyo. This year it started on the 10th of June. It is one of the three greatest Shinto festivals in Tokyo and takes place for an entire week. It is mostly famous for its parade that starts and ends at the Hie Shrine, a shrine that houses the guardian deity of Tokyo. This shrine was associated with the Tokugawa family and in Japanese history this festival was held as a celebration of the nation’s political centre and those in charge. These days however, the parade is much smaller so it won’t interfere with the traffic that much. The parade of about 500 people dressed in colourful costumes, starts at the Hie Shrine at 7.30 a.m. and arrives at the Imperial Palace around noon. After a short break, the parade continues towards other shrines until it returns to the shrine. At the shrine, visitors can find a large straw ring standing in the middle of the shrine grounds. By walking through the ring, you can purify yourself.

One of the mikoshi during the festival.

One of the mikoshi during the festival.

Yotaka Festival or Yotaka Matsuri (夜高祭)

The last Japanese festival in this article has different dates depending on where it’s held but in the city of Tonami, it takes place on the 10th and 11th of June. This festival is held to make sure that the next harvest will be bountiful. During this festival, each neighbourhood makes its own giant lantern float and parade it through the city. The carriers drink sake and are being guided by people playing different music instruments. Once the mood is settled, each neighbourhood starts participating in the takiawase, a competition where the carriers climb on top of the floats and the floats collide with each other to try to destroy other floats. This tradition differs in each region, but in Tonami they charge each other head on and try to destroy the other float. In other regions, they will race side by side while trying to kick and punch the other float. You can watch a video of a collision here. As violent as this might seem, it is still a community activity and is meant to bring joy and fun!

Collision!

Collision!

These are the most important Japanese  festivals that take place in June. If you want to know more about this subject, feel free to contact us or write a comment.

We’ll be back next month to tell you more about the Japanese holidays and festivals that take place during July.

Japanese holidays and festivals in May

Japanese festivities during May

Like every country, Japan has its own days and festivals to celebrate. In this article, Inari will tell you more about the Japanese holidays and festivals that take place during the month of May. In this month, you will see flying koi, historical parades and much more.

Golden Week and the three different holidays

In our article about Japanese Holidays and Festivals in April we told you about the Golden Week that revolves around 4 different holidays. Three of those holidays occur during May and we’ll tell you about all three of them.

Constitutional Memorial Day or Kenpō Kinenbi (憲法記念日)

The first one is called Constitutional Memorial Day or Kenpō Kinenbi, and it is celebrated on the third of May.  On this day, Japan celebrates the enactment of the Constitution of Japan in 1947. and it was held in 1948 for the first time. The original meaning of this holiday was to think about what democracy actually is and what the Japanese government’s task really is. However, because it is also part of the Golden Week, most Japanese people use this day as vacation and go on a trip. Some papers may publish editorials about certain articles in the Constitution of Japan so that people can reflect on their meaning. This year should be an interesting edition because the Japanese government approved a legislation that allowed the Japanese military to participate in foreign events. A legislation that has met quite some resistance from the Japanese citizens but has come in effect on the 29th of March, 2016.

People celebrating Constitutional

People celebrating constitutional Memorial Day.

Greenery Day or Midori no Hi (みどりの日)

Greenery Day or Midori no Hi is celebrated the day afterwards. Originally it was held on the 29th of April as a celebration of Emperor Shōwa’s birthday but in 1989 it’s name was changed to Greenery Day because Emperor Akihito ascended to the throne. The name Greenery Day was chosen because the late Emperor Shōwa had a controversial love for everything that had to do with nature. In present times, it is just a holiday that makes the Golden Week longer.

The nature so loved by the late Emperor.

The nature so loved by the late Emperor.

Children’s Day or Kodomo no Hi (こどもの日)

The last one of the Golden Week holidays is Children’s Day or Kodomo no Hi, and is celebrated on the fifth of May. On this day, the people in Japan celebrate their children. Families raise carp-shaped flags, also called koinobori, to symbolise the father, the mother and one for each child. Originally this holiday was made to celebrate young boys because young girls were celebrated on Hinamatsuri. But in 1948, the Japanese government decided to put the focus on all the Japanese children.

Typical Koinobori.

Typical Koinobori.

Hollyhock Festival or Aoi Matsuri (葵祭)

This matsuri is one of the three main festivals in Kyoto and it is held on the 15th of May. During this festival, the followers of two different shrines organise a grand parade throughout the city. The people walking in this parade, are dressed like people from the Heian period (794-1185) as they walk from the Imperial Palace to the two Kamo shrines, two of the oldest and most popular shrines in Kyoto. The origin of this festival are natural disasters that occurred in the 8th century CE. After Emperor decided to make offerings to the Gods, these natural disasters stopped happening. Since then, the festival has been celebrated every year. The parade starts at 10.30  at the Southern Gate of the Imperial Palace and passes the first Kamo Shrine at 11.15. The parade stops there for a couple of hours of ceremonies. Afterwards it leaves to the second Kamo Shrine and it arrives there at 15.30. The parade itself is an hour long and consists of giant bouquets of flowers, horses and kimono-clad women who are escorting the Saio of the year. The Saio was originally a young female member of the Imperial Family that served as high priestess of the shrines. Today a unmarried woman from Kyoto is chosen as Saio and must participate in purification ceremonies. During the parade, she is carried around on a palanquin.

The Saio being carried around.

The Saio being carried around.

Three Shrine Festival or  Sanja Matsuri (三社祭)

The Sanja Matsuri is one of the three great Shinto festivals in Tokyo and it is held during the third weekend of May at the Asakusa District in Tokyo. It is one of the most popular matsuri in Japan and it receives more than 2 million visitors every year. The festival is held for three consecutive days. It starts on Friday with a parade of geisha, musicians, city officials, priests and dancers in Edo period costumes. Afterwards a Shinto ceremony is held at the Asakusa Shrine. During the afternoon, the first of the mikoshi, or portable Shinto shrines, are carried through the streets accompanied by musicians. On Saturday almost 100 neighbourhood mikoshi are carried out to get blessings at the Asakusa Shrine or the Sensoji Temple. Afterwards, they are carried back to their neighbourhoods. On Sunday, hundreds of festivalgoers come together at 6.00 am at the Asakusa Shrine to try to be one of the carriers of the three great Asakusa mikoshi. The mikoshi  are carried throughout the district and are carried back to their shrine during the evening. If you want to take part in the Sanja Matsuri this year, it takes place from the 13th of May till the 15th of May.

People carrying one of the Japanese Asakusa mikoshi.

People carrying one of the Asakusa mikoshi.

These are the most important Japanese holidays and festivals that take place in May. If you want to know more about this subject, feel free to contact us or write a comment.

We’ll be back next month to tell you more about the Japanese holidays and festivals that take place during June.

Japanese holidays and festivals in April

Japanese festivities during April

Like every country, Japan has its own days and festivals to celebrate. In this article, Inari will tell you more about the Japanese holidays and festivals that take place during the month of April. In this month, you will see birthdays, flower petals and much more.

Shōwa Day or Shōwa no Hi (昭和の日)

This annual Japanese holiday is held on the 29th of April in order to celebrate Emperor Hirohito who reigned from 1926 to 1989. On this Japanese holiday, which is actually the birthday of Emperor Hirohito, people are encouraged to think about the turbulent years that Japan had when it was under the reign of Emperor Hirohito and how Japan recovered afterwards. Some people attend lectures concerning Japan’s participation in the Second World War, others tell stories about what they remember so the memories continue to live on. This holiday is somewhat frowned upon by China, South-Korea and North-Korea because they see it as a way to celebrate Japan’s war past.  This is also the first day of the Golden Week. This week has 4 national Japanese holidays that in combination with a good placed weekend, provides 7 days of hard-earned vacation. A lot of Japanese people take the time to travel and relax during this week. The other three Japanese holidays take place during the beginning of May and we will talk about them in the next article about Japanese holidays and festivals.

Japanese Emperor Hirohito

Emperor Hirohito in his formal attire.

Hanami (花見)

Hanami must be one of the most known Japanese traditions. During the month of April, this tradition is done the most. Various cities hold festivals in honor of the blooming sakura trees, families gather underneath the falling blossoms and other people celebrate this tradition on their own way. There won’t be a park without people eating underneath the sakura trees. It’s a Japanese tradition to have a family or company picnic while looking at the blossoms that fall down like a feather. The picnic is most of the time accompanied by music, entertainment and quite some sake. The best location to watch the falling flowers is Mount Yoshino in Nara. With more than 30.000 trees it’s quite the view! If you’d rather see some festivals, the chances are great that you’ll find one while driving around during April. Most bigger cities have their own Hanami festival and even smaller towns also have some festivities to celebrate this amazing time of the year.

A typical flower viewing afternoon for Japanese families or companies.

A typical flower viewing afternoon for Japanese families or companies.

Takayama Festival or Takayama Matsuri (高山祭)

This Japanese festival that takes place during the 14th and 15th of April, is one of the three most popular festivals in Japan. During this festival in Takayama, Gifu, the local shrine called the Hie Shrine or Sanno-sama is celebrated. It also has a complementary festival during the Autumn. This is done over the course of the two days and hundred of thousands of people from all over the Japan and the world attend it! The most popular event during this festival is the display of the festival floats. These tall and heavily decorated festival floats are put in public in the streets of Takayama. Some of these festival floats also have some sort of mechanical dolls or karakuri on top of them. These karakuri perform dances and move the entire time. During all of this, a procession is held as well. The people from the shrine carry a portable shrine, or mikoshi, through the streets. This portable shrine holds the shrine’s deity or kami. At night, the floats are carried through the streets of Takayama while the visitors celebrate the shrine and enjoy themselves. If you want to witness this beautiful festival, be sure to book a hotel in advance. Due to its immense popularity, most of the available hotel rooms or other places to sleep are already taken. You could always stay in a neighbouring city but that might make it difficult to see the evening part of this amazing festival.

The Takayama Festival Floats and a karakuri.

The Takayama Festival Floats and a karakuri.

These are the most important Japanese holidays and festivals that take place in April. If you want to know more about this subject, feel free to contact us or write a comment.

We’ll be back next month to tell you more about the Japanese holidays and festivals that take place during May.

Japanese holidays and festivals in March

Japanese festivities during March

Like every country, Japan has its own days and festivals to celebrate. In this article, Inari will tell you more about the Japanese holidays and festivals that take place during the month of March. In this month, you will see dolls, giant penisses and much more.

Doll’s Day or Hinamatsuri (雛祭り)

The first Japanese festival to take place in March is Doll’s Day or Hinamatsuri, a festival that is celebrated on the 3rd of March. Hinamatsuri originated in the Heian-period (794 – 1185 CE) when the dolls were used to contain bad spirits. Japanese traditions tell us that after displaying the dolls for a couple of weeks, the dolls were set afloat and sent down to the sea to get rid of the bad spirits. The problem of fishermen finding these dolls in their nets changed this custom and made people bring their dolls to the temples where they were burned collectively. In modern days, this Japanese festival has changed completely. Nowadays the festival is celebrated in houses of families that have daughters by displaying dolls in a Heian Court setting. The people also drink shirozake which is an alcoholic drink made from fermented rice and eat hina-arare, small colourful crackers, and hishimochi, colourful diamond shaped ricecakes.

Hina-arare!

Hina-arare!

The display has different tiers and each tier has its own set of dolls or miniature items. The first tier consists of the Emperor and the Empress, also called the Imperial dolls, and they are placed in front of a gold folding screen. The next tier is the special place for three courtladies who each are holding sake equipment. In between the courtladies are typical miniature tables with fake Japanese delicacies on top. The dolls on the third tier are musicians and each one except the singer has an instrument. Three have their own varying size of drums, one has a flute, and the other one is the singer. The fourth tier is for the two ministers, the Minister of the Right and the Minister of the Left. In between them are again miniature tables with either bowls or ricecakes. The last tier with dolls is reserved for the three helpers or samurai that are used to guard the Imperial pair. Each one has a face resembling the amount of sake they have drunk. The following two tiers are for imperial furniture at the palace and when away from home.

Japanese display hinamatsuri

A typical Japanese display for Hinamatsuri.

Harvest Festival or Hōnen Matsuri (豊年祭)

The next Japanese festival takes place on the 15th of March. The Harvest Festival, or Hōnen Matsuri, is a fertility festival to celebrate a good harvest and all forms of fertility and wealth. The main celebration consists out of Shinto priests playing instruments, all-you-can-drink sake and a parade that revolves around a 280 kg and 2.5 meter long wooden penis. People come together at 10 a.m. at the last shrine to drink sake and eat mostly penis-shaped snacks. At 2 p.m. they march towards the first shrine and start carrying the wooden penis to its destination. After arriving at the final shrine, they spin the wooden penis around and finally place it on its resting place. Afterwards the participants are showered with small ricecakes and at around 4.30 p.m. the celebration is concluded. If you want to experience this amazing festival, we recommend you to go to the City of Komaki, close to Nagoya.

A giant wooden penis.

A giant wooden penis.

A typical snack on Harvest Festival!

A typical snack on Harvest Festival!

Vernal Equinox Day or Shunbun no Hi (春分の日)

The final holiday takes place around the 20th or the 21st of March and originally was all about paying respect to the past Emperors and the Imperial family. After the Second World War this rather Shintoistic custom was changed into the Vernal Equinox Day in an attempt to separate state and religion. Nowadays this Japanese festival is mostly about praying for good harvest in the spring. People also visit the graves of lost ones and bring flowers. There is of course an alternative holiday at the beginning of autumn to celebrate the good harvest and to thank the world for it.

Flowers on the Vernal Equinox Day

Flowers on the Vernal Equinox Day

These are the most important Japanese holidays and festivals that take place in March. If you want to know more about this subject, feel free to contact us or write a comment.

We’ll be back next month to tell you more about the Japanese holidays and festivals that take place during April.

Japanese holidays and festivals in February

Japanese festivities during February

Like every country, Japan has its own days and festivals to celebrate. In this article, Inari will tell you more about the Japanese holidays and festivals that take place during the month of February. In this month, you will see snow, naked people and much more.

National Foundation Day or Kenkoku Kinen no Hi (建国記念の日)

The only public holiday during the month of February in Japan is the National Foundation Day or Kenkoku Kinen no Hi. This holiday is celebrated on the 11th of February and marks the foundation of Japan by the first emperor Jimmu. During the Meiji Period (1868-1912) this was turned into a national holiday of Japan. The focus on the emperor was thought to be a great way to unify Japan and strengthen the state. In 1966 the holiday was re-established but the focus on the emperor was taken away. To this day the holiday is still a symbol for patriotism and nationalism, that is why it is still a somewhat controversial holiday. Most people raise the Japanese flag during this holiday but nothing else special really happens.

Japanese flags being raised for the National Foundation Day

Japanese flags being raised for the National Foundation Day

Setsubun

The last day before the beginning of spring apparently takes place on the 3rd of February in Japan. On this holiday people perform the practice of mamemaki (豆撒き) or bean scattering. The head of the house throws roasted soy beans out of the house or at a family member wearing a demon mask. This symbolises cleansing the house before the beginning of spring. Afterwards the household eats roasted soybeans to complete the ritual. Each person eats one soybean per year that they lived and one extra for the year to come. Monks at Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples also celebrate Setsubun by throwing beans and lighting all the lanterns of the shrine or the temple. All of this is done to scare away wandering spirits that walk on the Japanese ground during this spiritual time of the year.

My beans!

My beans!

Snowfestivals

As you can probably derive from the name of these festivals, these Japanese festivals are all about snow. For the sake of the article we decided to show you two examples.

The first one is the Sapporo Snow Festival that takes place in Sapporo, the capital of the Hokkaido prefecture. During this festival, three different locations in Sapporo are transformed in giant snow and ice sculptures. The biggest location, Odori Park, becomes an amazing snow museum that is more than 1,5 kilometers long. On the International Square, people can participate in the International Snow Statue Contest and in the famous nightspot district Susukino, you can walk past fantastic ice sculptures. Since 2006, people can also visit Sapporo Satorando, a park with attractions for children and much more. This Japanese festival takes place during the second week of February.

Snow troopers

Snow troopers

The other festival is the Yokote Kamakura Snow Festival that takes place in Yokote, Akita during the 15th and 16th of February. Kamakura are small hills made out of snow that are hollowed out and turned into small houses. In these houses they place an altar for the water gods so the Japanese people can receive plenty of clear water during the following year. This 400 year old tradition’s origin lies in the practice of returning the New Year decorations to the gods by burning them. During the Kamakura Snow Festival, hundreds of these small houses are placed on the hillside and people get invited by children to drink a fermented rice drink and eat rice cakes.

Just chillin'

Just chillin’

Naked festival or Hadaka Matsuri (裸祭り)

On the third Saturday of February, one of the most peculiar Japanese festivals take place in Okoyama. Being the birthplace of the Naked Festival or the Hadaka Matsuri, Okoyama’s Naked Festival is the most popular one in Japan. Over more than 9,000 men only wearing small loincloths participate in this ceremony. During this festival a priest throws a pair of lucky sticks one by one into the crowd. The person who catches it and sticks it into a wooden measuring box is blessed with a year of happiness. Although there are also a hundred smaller lucky sticks, the competition can get rough. Before the main event, children can participate in a less violent version and the “naked” men parade through the streets to get pumped up for the ceremony.

Japanese Naked Festival

Comfy

These are the most important Japanese holidays and festivals that take place in February. If you want to know more about this subject, feel free to contact us or write a comment.

We’ll be back next month to tell you more about the Japanese holidays and festivals that take place during March.

Inari Press is back in action!

Inari Press is back, in a brand-new format!

After a few months of silence we have evaluated our articles and the way we published them. Starting next week we will be putting articles online every week. These articles will cover different themes with a little something for every reader. Our new format is very simple and it gives us the opportunity to write better and about great variety of subjects.

A typical Inari Press meeting

A typical Inari Press meeting

First of all, we will publish “Weekly Japan”, a short summary of what happened in Japan that week. This will always be posted on a Friday and if something big happens, we will post an additional article with more information.

Secondly, we will write a monthly article about the holidays and festivals of that month. We will focus on the customs that go together with these festive days and how the Japanese people celebrate them.

Thirdly, there will also be one article every month about the different prefectures in Japan. Each region or prefecture has its own specialties, nature, customs and story. With these articles we want to show you all the things Japan has to offer. Who knows, perhaps you will find new places to travel to.

A lot of potential articles

A lot of potential articles

These three subjects will be recurring constantly, but we will also have a bigger theme every three months. With a total of six articles per theme, we will paint you a bigger picture that will be published every two weeks. The first of these bigger themes will be “6 unusual but fantastic places to visit in Japan” in which we will tell you more about the lesser known but not to be underestimated places, buildings or regions in Japan.

In between all these, we will also publish extra articles about modern culture, folklore and social phenomena in the Japanese society. You can expect things like anime reviews, recipes, Monster of the Month and articles about hikikomori for example.

Our vision for Inari Press

Our vision for Inari Press

That is about everything for our written Inari Press. But there is more! We are working on a Inari Press Youtube channel. In that way we can also visualise the things we write about. Inari has a lot of plans for this channel and will be working together with the Department of Japanology at the University of Ghent to provide you with interesting movies about Japan. We will taste weird Japanese candy, talk about recent events and cook for you. This channel will go online starting February.

We hope that we can entertain you with our new format and we are looking forward to start! Also visit our Facebookpage on this site for more information about our new activities.

Greets,

The Inari Team

Shinzo Abe’s planned reform of the Japanese militaristic structure

Article 9. Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes. 

In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.[1] 

Following Japan’s defeat in the Second World War, this article was implemented in the Japanese Constitution in 1947. Its content, which is relatively unique in the modern world, prohibited the Japanese government to get involved in all the different aspects of war, and prohibited funds being used for military purposes.  Japan was allowed to have the necessary individual self-defence, but collective self-defence and participation in U.N.-led peace-keeping operations was not allowed.[2]

Creation of the Self-Defence Forces

Later governments ruled by the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan interpreted this article more freely and, with encouragement of the United States of America, decided to form the Self-Defence Forces in 1954. The SDF are a military force but are by law considered to be an extension of the police force, created to help maintain national security.

Members of Japan's Self-Defence Forces' airborne troops stand at attention during the annual SDF troop review ceremony at Asaka Base in AsakaPicture: Members of Japan’s Self-Defence Forces’ airborne troops stand at attention during the annual SDF troop review ceremony at Asaka Base in Asaka, near Tokyo, October 27, 2013. REUTERS/Issei Kato

The creation of the SDF was met with quite some resistance from the Japanese citizens due to their post-war anti-militaristic views. To this day, any attempt to increase the budget or the authority of the SDF is mostly considered to be controversial.[3]

Re-interpretation of Article 9

During the summer of 2014 Shinzo Abe, Japan’s Prime Minister since 2012, and his Cabinet ended the ban that prohibited the SDF from fighting abroad and which prohibited collective self-defence. In short, the SDF are now allowed to help Japan’s allies during wartime and further-more they can now participate in U.N.-led peace-keeping operations.

044285d8-8ce4-11e3-8b82-00144feab7dePicture: Shinzo Abe. http://www.ft.com/topics/people/Shinzo_Abe

This re-interpretation of Article 9 is supported by the United States of America but was not well-received in other Asian countries. Especially China and South-Korea oppose this new turn of events. In Japan itself, the citizens still fight against this historical event as they think that Japan will get entangled in international disputes. They also think that this re-interpretation is a flagrant disregard of Article 9.[4]

Opposition against the re-interpretation

The Japanese citizens’ wish to cancel this reform of Article 9 is supported by the Democratic Party of Japan, the party in opposition of the Liberal Democratic Party in the Japanese Diet. Following the Cabinet’s decision to reinstate the SDF as a collective self-defence force, the DPJ started writing a bill to halt it.

This bill would firmly state that Japan could only use its right to collective self-defence if and only if Japan was in a direct state of emergency, or was threatened by an invasion. Further-more, this bill would outlaw the introduction of mandatory military service. This is the DPJ’s way to try to stop the shift in Japan’s security policy that Shinzo Abe has been working on during the past two months. The only problem for the DPJ is that if they want this bill to pass, it needs to be endorsed by the party submitting it. It seems as though there are some members of the DPJ who follow the train of thought that was set by Shinzo Abe and the Liberal Democratic Party.[5]

Inari will keep following the situation and how it will unfold. Once there are new developments, we will post them here on Inari Press.

Keep an eye on our blog for updates.

Works cited (and suggested further reading):

 

[1]  http://japan.kantei.go.jp/constitution_and_government_of_japan/constitution_e.html.

[2]http://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2014/06/27/commentary/japan-commentary/reinterpreting-article-9-endangers-japans-rule-of-law/#.VANmcPl_t8R.

[3] Dolan, Ronald; Robert Worden: Japan: A Country Study. Section 2: “The Self Defense Forces”.

[4] http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/07/01/us-japan-defense-idUSKBN0F52S120140701

[5] http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2014/08/16/national/politics-diplomacy/opposition-group-plans-bill-to-prohibit-collective-defense/#.VANmgvl_t8R