Calendar of Japanese Events – January & February Edition –
There are many seasonal events and customs in Japan. Here are some events that are held in January and February! Foreign tourists are welcome to experience them, so if you are visiting Japan during this period, give them a try.
Hatsuhinode (First Sunrise of the Year)
There is a custom of welcoming the first sunrise of the year, "hatsuhinode," on January 1st. The Japanese New Year is an event to welcome Toshigamisama (the god of the New Year). The hatsuhinode custom emerged based on the belief that Toshigamisama appears with the first sunrise of the year. Sunrise is usually between 6:20 am and 7:30 am, depending on the location. In Tokyo, Tokyo Skytree and Roppongi Hills are good places to see a beautiful sunrise, and in the Osaka and Kyoto areas, Umeda Sky Building and Kyoto Tower are recommended.
"Hatsumode" means to visit a shrine or temple at the beginning of the year to wish for fortune and peace in the year. Although there are differing theories as to when the shrines should be visited - such as just on January 1st, or on January 1st, 2nd, or 3rd - the general consensus today is that they should be visited between January 1st and 7th. At famous shrines, long lines often form before the New Year begins! After worshipping at the shrine, visitors spend their time getting omikuji (written fortunes) to test their luck or purchasing charms. There is different etiquette for visiting temples and shrines, so be sure to look them up before going. Some popular hatsumode spots include Meiji Shrine in Tokyo, Fushimi Inari Taisha in Kyoto, and Sumiyoshi Taisha in Osaka.
During the New Year, many families in Japan have "kagami-mochi" as an offering to Toshigamisama, the god of New Year. Kagami-mochi is mochi rice cake on a sanpo (a square stand) decorated with bitter orange, yuzuriha leaf, and konbu seaweed. With round mochi that represents "enman" (literally written as "round and full", meaning "harmony") stacked up, it is meant to connote "stacking up the years in harmony." "Kagami biraki" is the ceremony of breaking the kagami-mochi and eating it in a savory zoni soup or sweet shiruko red bean soup and usually occurs on January 11th or 15th (on January 4th in some regions). It is believed that Toshigamisama's spirit inhabits the kagami-mochi, so it is taboo to use a knife to cut it. The mochi is eaten to endow people with the god's strength and to pray for health and happiness throughout the year.
Although setsubun originally denoted the day before the changing of the seasons (the day before the first day of spring, summer, fall and winter according to the lunar calendar), today it basically refers to just the day before the first day of spring (usually around February 3rd). During Setsubun, there is a custom of throwing beans outside from the house yelling "oni wa soto!" ("demons out!") to dispel demons. "Setsubun-sai" (setsubun festivals) are held at shrines and temples around the country, where mamemaki (bean throwing) is conducted at a grand scale. There is also a custom originally from Osaka and the surrounding areas that has spread nationwide of eating uncut large futomaki sushi rolls (ehomaki) without speaking while facing that year's eho (lucky direction) to pray for health throughout the year. This custom is spreading across the country so that futomaki sushi is sold in convenience stores, supermarkets, and department stores around Setsubun.
Valentine's Day is celebrated throughout the world, is known as a holiday commemorating St. Valentine's, who was martyred in the 3rd century. Customs differ by country, but in Japan, February 14th is a day when women give men chocolates and profess their love. Recently, "tomo-choco" (friend chocolates), that are exchanged among female friends, have become popular. When Valentine's Day nears, events where chocolates from all over the world can be bought are held in department stores and other locations. Why not select a special chocolate not just for that special someone, but also for yourself?
Your trip will become even fuller by experiencing culture that is unique to Japan! Try something you can only experience during that time and create everlasting memories from your trip.
*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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