There are many customs and events year-round, from season to season in Japan. Out of those, this will introduce some that are held in May and June! If you are in Japan around this time, definitely try and experience them for yourself!
Tango no Sekku (Children's day)
"Tango no Sekku" is on the 5th of May. An event that has continued from the 8th century, it was formerly made into a seasonal festival for the warding off of evil, however, during the Edo period (1603～1867), it became an event to celebrate the birth and growth of male children. It is now called "Children's day", and has become a public holiday for praying for the healthy development of children.
Centered on households with a male child, some customs are, decorating with samurai armor, helmet, and carp streamers (a streamer with a carp representation), and eating foods for good luck such as Kashiwa mochi (rice cake with azuki bean jam inside and wrapped in oak leaf) and Chimaki (cake wrapped in bamboo leaves). There are also customs remaining for the warding off of evil like soaking in "Shobuyu" (bathwater with iris leaves for warding off maliciousness with a strong scent) and praying for sound health. There are even some bath houses that prepare Shobuyu, so how about giving it a try some time?
"Mother's Day" is something that they have no matter where you go in the world. In Japan, it's on the 2nd Sunday of May (May 14th in 2017) every year, and along with presents, feelings of gratitude are conveyed to one's mother. The standard gift is a carnation, however, there is nothing especially decided for the day. For tourists visiting Japan, how about sending a postcard to your mother with a special postmark?
Now for a few exemplary festivals held in May.
The "Hakata Dontaku Harbor Festival" is held every year from the 3rd to the 4th of May. As Fukuoka, Hakata's representative festival, "Hakata Matsubayashi" is the biggest highlight. As a traditional event, it has been chosen as a national intangible folk cultural asset.
From the start, to the middle of May, one of the three big festivals in Japan, "Kanda Festival" is held in Tokyo. It's a festival at "Kandamyojin", with its origin dating back to over 1300 years, many people crowd the streets for the "Shinko Festival" and "Mikoshi Miyairi" (the re-entering of the portable shrines into the shrine's premises), where you can see the amazing sight of how the portable shrines are carried around on the shoulders of men.
The "Aoi Festival" is held in Kyoto on the 15th of May. All 500 members, clad in clothing similar to that of the aristocracy of the Heian period, march in lines, making it a really elegant festival.
The "Sanja Festival" is held in the middle of May, and is a representative Tokyo religious festival at the famous, Senso-ji temple. With their boisterous carrying of the portable shrines, it is known as a festival that still has the marked atmosphere of working class.
Golden Week (Extra)
From the end of April, through the beginning of May is a large holiday period known as "Golden Week". The continuation of the public holidays such as Showa day (29th of April), the Anniversary of the constitution (3rd of May), Green Day (4th of May), and Children's Day (5th of May), with the Saturday and Sunday, make a holiday period that lasts between 1 week and 10 days. In every area throughout the country, many large scale events take place. In Japan where it is difficult to take long periods of holiday, many people take the opportunity to visit a tourist resort during this period, so roads, public transport, and hotels are usually very crowded.
Continuing from Mother's Day in May, Japan has Father's Day, held on the 3rd Sunday of June (June 18th in 2017). There isn't any designated present like the carnation present on Mother's Day, but each place has its own special campaigns every year. How about telling your dad how much he means to you and sending him a souvenir from Japan?
The day with the longest amount of sunshine in the year is called the "Summer Solstice", and is around the 21st of June every year. As one of the 24 divisions of the solar year (24 terms divided by roughly 15 days used to denote the changing of the seasons), the passing of this day marks the true start to summer.
At the Futami Okitama Shrine in Mie prefecture, every year there is a summer solstice festival. On the summer solstice, where the energy from the sun is at its strongest point in the year, a purification is carried out with the viewing of the sunrise through the Meoto (married couple) rocks.
In recent years, there has also been effort to turn off all electronic lights on the summer solstice and winter solstice (the shortest day of the year) days, and light candles for a "candle night" instead. With a theme of "no lights for a slow night", many towns and stores also have special events on those days.
One festival to highlight as a representative of June, is the "Kifune Festival" held on the 1st of June. It is a religious festival at Kifune shrine in Kyoto, and events like Mikoshi Hatsuyo (portable shrines are carried and marched down the streets) and the dedication of elegant dance and music are conducted on the day.
Around the start of June, in Sapporo, Hokkaido, there is a festival called the "YOSAKOI Soran". In a parade and on stage, dancers put on an energetic dance performance dressed in clothes of various colors. Around 270 teams dance to the Hokkaido folk song "Soran Bushi".
How was it? There are many festivals held during this period, so it's recommended that you plan your itinerary to try and meet up with them! Please try and get the full feel of Japanese culture, okay.
*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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