With its ancient traditions and unique culture, Japan is
blessed with many refined and beautiful festivals and ceremonies. Many of
these mark the changing of seasons and natural phenomena such as the
blooming of cherry trees. Others concern the family such as the many special
days devoted to children.
Setsubun is actually the day before a new season begins but now refers to only Spring and is celebrated on the 3rd of February.
Setsubun has the status of a New Year's Eve with all the cleaning away of the old year associated with that event. The ritual involved in Setsubun is known as mamemaki which means bean scattering. Performed by the male head of the household, mamemaki involved throwing roasted soybeans out of the door while chanting words to the effect of "Demons out, luck in".
Setsubun is also celebrated at Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines all over Japan. Celebrations involve mamemaki by the priests and special guests and sometimes celebrities and sumo wrestlers will make an appearance.
One of the most beautiful and uniquely Japanese of festivals is that of Hanami which takes place in springtime. Hanami means "flower viewing" in Japanese and the flowers in question are cherry blossoms (sakura) which bloom all over Japan from late March to early May. For Hanami, the Japanese congregate in parks to eat, drink and be merry, while contemplating the ephemeral beauty of the cherry blossoms which fall like a soft, pink snow.
The blossoms are also viewed at night in an event called yozakura (night sakura). Paper lanterns are hung up in many parks which add to the beauty and ambiance of the festival.
Also during April, flower festivals are held at Shinto shrines and the Japanese like to go on flower viewing picnics and parties. It's also a time for partaking in other Japanese traditions such as folk songs and dancing, flower arrangement ceremonies and flower parades and display.
Another major Japanese festival is Kodomo-no-i which marks children's day. Celebrated on May 5, Kodomo-no-i is more precisely Boy's Day. It's also known as the Iris Festival for the practice of placing iris leaves in the boy's bath. Shaped like the blades of a sword, these leaves are believed to give the boy courage.
For Kodomo-no-i, every family that has a male child flies giant streamers in the shape of a carp in their garden a symbol of success. These streamers are known as koinobori and they can be enormous. Meanwhile inside the house, the family displays warrior dolls called musha ningyo. The traditional food eaten on Kodomo-no-i is kashiwamochi. These are rice cakes filled with bean paste and covered with oak leaves.
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