Japan’s Seasonal Event Calendar – March and April Edition –
There are plenty of events and holidays throughout the Japanese year. Here are some major events to know for March and April.
Hanami is a uniquely Japanese custom that's also famous overseas, and it's how Japanese people enjoy cherry blossoms ("sakura"), a flower prized in Japan. Sakura became beloved as a representative of spring flowers in the Heian period around 1200 years ago, and at the time hanami was enjoyed by writing waka (short poems) and drinking as one gazed at the flowers.
Modern-day hanami involves people gathering in areas that have beautiful flowers and often people drink and eat atop a tarp. The lively atmosphere makes day hanami great, but the recommended time to go is at night, when you can enjoy yozakura, the mystical sight of the blossoms lit up against the night sky.
Hina Matsuri, also known as Girls' Day, is held on March 3rd and is a traditional event praying for the healthy growth of girl children.
It's tradition to imbibe various foods, like hishimochi, a type of mochi made in three colors (pink or red, white, and green) which symbolize warding off bad luck and praying for perpetuation of one's descendants; hina-arare, a type of rice cracker; and amazake, a sweet drink made from rice and rice malt. The main point of Hina Matsuri is, if you have a daughter, to decorate your home with dolls called hina ningyo. Hina ningyo show the imperial court (usually during a wedding ceremony) and have various types, including the obina and mebina representing the emperor and empress, serving court ladies, and more.
It's said that the Hina Matsuri began as a tradition handed down from ancient China in which people purified themselves at a waterfront because it was believed that maliciousness could easily enter one's life at the change of the seasons, such as early March. Originally dolls made from grass and paper would be made to take on one's impurities and thrown into rivers or the ocean to be washed away, and eventually it has evolved into the modern event.
*Center of photo: amazake. Left is hishimochi and right is hina-arare.
White Day is held on March 14th, and it's a day in which men give sweets or other gifts in return to women that gave them presents on Valentine's Day (February 14th). After Valentine's Day became a standard event in Japan, White Day was created by candy makers in 1980 as a response for those wanting to reciprocate.
The day was chosen because it's a month after Valentine's Day, the day St. Valentine, a 3rd century Roman saint who died after he was caught marrying young couples and therefore breaking the marriage ban between Christians. White Day is another day where those couples can wish for eternal love. White is the color of purity, and it was chosen as a perfect color for a refreshing love, and thus the day was given its name.
In modern days, it's not just sweets that are given but also other gifts like accessories, and is a standard day for couples to celebrate.
In Japan, the school year ends at the end of March, so in early to late March, schools from elementary to university all hold graduation ceremonies.
Generally, graduation ceremonies involve a diploma award ceremony, the school song and speeches like words of congratulations from the faculty, parting words from students, and a formal reply from graduates. Attendees wear their uniform or formal wear like suits, and the ceremony is conducted in a strict atmosphere. Many women graduating from university choose to wear Japanese garments like hakama (traditional wear in which a loose garment is worn from the hips down over a kimono and tied at the waist) or furisode (traditional formal dress for unmarried women, kimono with long sleeves). The sight of women dressed in bright Japanese clothing walking around town is beautiful, and it signifies spring to many Japanese people.
Ohigan is held surrounding the spring and autumnal equinoxes (usually around March 21st and September 23rd). The equinoxes and the three days before and after them (for a total of 7 days) are when it's custom to hold memorial services for one's ancestors. It's a Buddhist ritual that is only done in Japan and no other country. In Buddhism, it's believed that on the equinoxes when the sun rises true east and sets in true west, it's the easiest time to communicate between Higan, the world in which one's ancestors are, and Shigan, the world of the living.
Also, it's connected to sowing seeds in spring and harvest in the autumn, so it's also a time to give thanks and prayers to nature and the ancestors.
During Ohigan, people clean the graves of their ancestors, offer fruit and flowers, light incense, and perform other memorial services.
Also during Ohigan, Japanese people eat a snack called botamochi. Botamochi is a round piece of mochi covered with anko (azuki bean paste). Anko is made from azuki which are believed to ward away maliciousness, so eating it became standard during events like Ohigan.
The name "botamochi" is said to have come about because the snack looks like tree peonies ("botan"), flowers that bloom in the spring.
April Fool's Day
April Fool's Day is held on April 1st, and it's a day in which one forgives people who told harmless lies that morning. Originally it was an event that started off in the west or in India, but it's said to have been brought to Japan in the Edo period (1603 - 1867) from China.
In recent years, famous companies have special websites to announce fake news for press purposes, popular celebrities use social media to surprise their followers with lies, and it's become a familiar event on the Internet.
School entrance ceremony/Company initiation ceremony
In Japan, April is the start of the school year as well as when companies welcome their new employees, and each holds their own welcoming ceremony. Generally the ceremonies include the principal or CEO and other related representatives giving congratulatory speeches, greetings from new students or employees, and singing the school or company song.
Also in this season are "Freshers' Fairs," sales held around the country. It's a time where new students and employees can buy needed and appropriate items like suits, shoes, and accessories like bags for a reasonable price, so please make sure to check them out!
You can enjoy participating and experiencing events like hanami and White Day during your trip! Please enjoy Japanese spring events to your heart's content!
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.
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