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.

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