2009 festivals in japan
Photo: Vacations And Travel

Big Japanese festivals are a fun, unforgettable - and often very crowded - way to see a bit of Japanese culture. Don't miss out while travelling in Japan.

Top 15 most popular festivals in Japan that travellers should know

#1. January 1 - 3: Shogatsu 正月 New Year's Day

Shogatsu, the Japanese New Year celebration, falls on the familiar date of January 1 per the Gregorian calendar. It's considered one of the biggest festivals in Japan.

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Photo: Hisgo

Shogatsu focuses on bringing prosperity in the upcoming year — beyond just hangover recovery. At midnight, Buddhist temples ring bells 108 times (the estimated number of worldly sins/desires). Special food is prepared and money is given to children in small envelopes. Reunited families spend time together and play games. The general sentiment is about new beginnings and setting the stage for prosperity, according to Tripsavvy.

#2. February 3 Setsubun 節分 Coming of Spring

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Photo: Time Out

This is the first day of spring according to the old lunar calendar used in pre-modern Japan and China. Setsubun ceremonies are held to drive away evil. The most common ritual nowadays is the throwing of roasted beans while shouting "Demons out! Good fortune in!" ("Oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi!"). Afterwards, you pick up and eat as many beans as your age. Shrines and temples stage a variety of local ceremonies and festivities.

#3. Hanami (Cherry Blossom Festival)

An ancient tradition, the word hanami actually means "flower viewing" and that's exactly what thousands of people do during the spring Cherry Blossom Festival. What could be more enjoyable than sitting under beautiful blooms with food and drinks?

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Photo: Pinterest

Families, friends, and coworkers compete for quiet spots in busy parks to enjoy picnics and parties. Events happen day and night. A little revelry takes place beneath the blooms that are celebrated for their fleeting, impermanent nature.

Hanami takes place between March and May, depending on how far north or south in Japan. Blooms begin appearing in the south first as winter gives up.

#4. Golden Week ゴルデンウィーク(April 29 to May 5)

Golden Week is a series of non-consecutive holidays that correspond to some of Japan's best Spring weather. The first holiday of Golden Week is Showa Day on April 29, the observance of the birthday of Emperor Hirohito. It is considered a time to reflect on that turbulent part of Japan's past. Constitution Memorial Day hits on May 3 and is followed by Greenery Day on May 4 then Children's Day on May 5.

It's one of Japan's busiest travel seasons that's associated with high prices, traffic jams and overpacked trains. As a result, many people choose to stay in town and everything from movie theatres to department stores are busy too, as cited by Japan Talk.

#5. Mid-August O-Bon お盆

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Photo: G'Day Japan

Obon is a three-day celebration of ancestors' spirits that come home to rest. People visit shrines, temples, and family graves during Obon. Fires are lit in front of homes and lanterns help guide the spirits. Much like the Hungry Ghosts Festival observed in other parts of Asia, Obon is about keeping spirits happy in the afterlife.

Obon is an important time for families; many heads back to their ancestral homes, causing long transportation delays and some business closures. Shrines will certainly be busier during Obon.

#6. Shichigosan (Mid November)

A rite of passage at Shinto shrines for children of ages that are traditionally considered lucky. These are age three and five for boys and age three and seven for girls. It's a special day for kids as it's often their first chance to wear kimono or a suit.

#7. February 24 Tenno no Tanjobi 天皇の誕生日 Emperor's Birthday

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Photo: The Week

The birthday of the reigning Emperor is a national holiday. The current Emperor was born on December 24rd. The Emperor makes a rare public appearance each year on his birthday at the Imperial Palace. It's a popular day for Christmas shopping.#7.

#8. Christmas クリスマス (December 25)

Christmas is a workday in Japan. Nevertheless, the holiday generates a great deal of excitement. Tokyo and other big Japanese cities offer spectacular Christmas lights. Christmas is considered a romantic day in Japan that's associated with a number of unique traditions.

#9. Second Monday in January: Seijin no Hi 成人の日 Coming of Age Day

This day is for all the young men and women who are or will become, 20 years of age that year. 20 is the legal age for voting, smoking, and drinking.

The local government puts on a ceremony at the town hall, following which the young people will move on to various ceremonies held at shrines. The young men mostly wear suits, but the young women will be wearing a special kimono bought (or rented) for the occasion. At night the primary activity is drinking- and drinking and drinking.

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Photo: Notes of Nomads

Seijin no hi is loosely based on pre-Meiji era coming-of-age rites; although in those days adulthood was reached at a much younger age, typically between 10 and 16 years old. Read more about Coming of Age Day, as cited by Japan Visitor.

#10. January 15 Tondo

Most communities hold a festival on this day where all the New Year decorations are piled onto a big bonfire and ritually burned. Children also place examples of their calligraphy in the fire. If the flames and smoke cause the paper to rise into the air, then the child will be blessed with a good calligraphic hand.

As well as tonjiru (pork stew) and other delicious foods, warmed sake is served from lengths of bamboo that have been heated in the fire.

#11. March 3 Hina Matsuri ひな祭り Dolls Festival

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Photo: Savvy Tokyo

Though May 5th is technically Children's Day, in truth it is for boys, and the Dolls Festival is the day for girls. Read more on Hina Matsuri.

#12. February 14 Valentine's Day バレンタイン

St Valentine's Day was launched by a chocolate manufacturer in 1958, with other chocolate companies following suit soon after.

On Valentine's Day, women give men chocolates - and not just to lovers or husbands, but to colleagues, friends, and relatives. There is even such a thing as "giri-choco", i.e. "obligation chocolate", to be given to males whom it would be socially unwise to neglect.

There is no tradition of anonymous cards and gifts given to lovers. White Day (March 14) is the day for the men to reciprocate.

#13. March 14 White Day ホワイト・デー

On this day men are supposed to give gifts to their female partners/acquaintances/colleagues/relatives/friends/ lovers - specifically those who gave them a Valentine's Day gift. "Triple return" (sanbai gaeshi) is said to be the rule, whereby the man returns a gift approximately three times the value of what he received in on Valentine's Day.

Begun in 1978 by the National Association of Confectionery Makers as 'Candy Day', apparently at the instigation of Ishimura Manseido, a confectionery manufacturer in Fukuoka City, it was relaunched as 'White Day' in 1980. White Day has never been as popular or as faithfully observed as Valentine's Day.

#14. May 5 Kodomo no Hi こどもの日 Children's Day

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Photo: Tokyo Weekender

Though officially dedicated to children, this day is actually considered Boys' Day. In the weeks preceding, families with young boys erect a tall pole and fly carp streamers, or koinobori. The carp, swimming upstream, is a symbol of strength and endurance, and it is hoped that the boys will achieve these qualities. In addition, a gleaming silver or gold decorative warrior helmet, or kabuto may be given as a gift, as a further symbol of manliness and strength. Read more about Childrens Day.

#15. Mothers Day ( May 9)

Mother's Day is fairly big in Japan. Many children will buy their mother flowers on this day. According to Japanese flower meanings, red carnations are considered the best gift for a mom. At schools throughout Japan, kids draw pictures of their mother on this day.

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