• January

    凧揚げ (たこあげ)

    Japanese kites are usually square-shaped, made with paper glued on a bamboo frame. Pictures of warriors or Kabuki actors are drawn on the surface together with Japanese writing. Kite-flying used to be an occasion for celebrating a child’s growing up and for invoking the child's happiness in the future, but now it is conducted as a traditional New Year activity. Besides that, there are regional kite-flying tournaments, where large kites from a few meters to ten or more in size are flown, and even kite-fighting events.

  • February

    Sea Bream

    As the word 'tai' rhymes with “medetai” (meaning happy or auspicious), the fishes are served during celebratory occasions such as weddings and festivals, and are thought to bring good luck. In addition, due to the beauty of their shape and colour, they are termed the king of ocean fish. To eat sea bream in its natural shape is said to bless one with good fortune. Thus, when preparing sea bream for serving, the whole fish (okashiratsuki) is preferred. A method of catching this species of fish in Japan's coastal waters was developed and in the Edo Period (1603 - 1867), a technique was devised to transport them while they were still alive.

  • March

    Japanese Swords

    Nihonto are swords constructed via a particular Japanese method, and early on, they became known overseas for their superior sharpness and beauty. Their main features are being single-edged and slightly curved. At the base of the hilt, there is a metal piece called a sword guard which serves to ward off an opponent’s sword and protect the hands gripping the hilt.

    Japanese swords, said to reflect the soul of the samurai, were regarded as a symbol of feudal society in the Edo Period (1603 - 1867). In the Meiji Period (1868 - 1912), samurai were forced to give up their high-ranking positions and swords were thus prohibited. Subsequently, military officers carried the swords to symbolize their ranks. After the war, possession of swords was forbidden, except for the purpose of appreciating them as art objects for their purity and beauty.

  • April

    Cherry Blossom

    The flower that is most beloved by the Japanese people and that symbolizes Japan is the cherry blossom. From the cherry blossom which blooms and falls only within a week or so, the Japanese sense beauty, as well as transience, melancholy, and perhaps graceful resignation.

    The lyricism of the Japanese people has been closely connected with this flower from ancient times; since the Heian Period (794 - 1185), it has often been included in classical Japanese poems. From the early years of the Showa Period (1926 - 1989) till the Second World War, the way that the cherry blossom quickly and gracefully falls was appropriated into militarism to beautify the deaths of the suicide units. Today, Japan has sent cherry trees with their beauty overseas as a symbol of peace, and their light pink flowers bloom every spring, for example, beside the Potomac River in Washington DC, and on the remains of the Berlin Wall.

    In Japan, people enjoy outdoor parties under the cherry blossoms in early April. They sit on mats under the cherry trees, eating, drinking, singing cheerfully and viewing the blossoms.
  • May

    Sanja Festival: One of the three major festivals of Tokyo

    It is held as a ritual ceremony in the Asakusa Shrine in the middle of May. Festivals of Edo (present-day Tokyo) are mainly designed for scores of people to carry portable shrines on their shoulders and parade around an area. The Sanja Festival is popular, with dozens of the portable shrines from each block association and three big portable shrines energetically being paraded through the old traditional streets of Asakusa, There is much music and ancient dances in the precincts of the shrine too. The three days of this festival, together with the first temple or shrine visit of the New Year, is the time when this part of town is most enlivened.

    Kanda Festival

    Kanda is very popular as the centre of a commercial and residential district of Edo (present-day Tokyo). Those born in Kanda are said to be typical Edoites (Edokko). The Kanda Festival is a ritual ceremony that is held at the Kanda Shrine in May. Like other festivals in Tokyo, the procession of the portable shrines is the main event. The Kanda Festival is high-spirited and has even been called the essence of Edo. Today, it is not as bustling as it used to be, but it is still one of Tokyo’s three major festivals.

  • June

    The National Bird

    The bird that represents Japan is the pheasant. Native to Japan, the pheasant has been a familiar sight to the people since ancient times and was designated as the country's national bird in 1947.

    It lives in wooded areas and grassy fields away from human habitation. Its main features include light brown feathers with black spots for males; females are smaller and have shorter tails than males.

    In fall and winter, pheasants were objects of hunting. Since ancient times, they were highly valued for eating. They were often used as congratulatory gifts for weddings.

    Among birds, pheasants are considered the finest species; because of the sorrowful cries of males and females for each other, they are taken as symbols in classical Japanese poems and Haiku (poems in seventeen syllables) of love for one's family.

  • July

    Daruma (Dharma dolls)

    Daruma are dolls without hands and feet. They represent the sitting meditation (Zazen) posture of Bodhidharma, founder of the Zen sect, who was born in southern India but moved to China. Bodhidharma's legs were said to be paralyzed because he meditated continuously on a rock for nine years with his legs crossed, which made him unable to walk.

    Most daruma are made of paper and painted red, except for their faces. Their bottoms are heavy and work as tumblers. Because they bounce back to their original position when pushed over, they serve as good luck charms. There is a custom of drawing in eyes, which are usually white, when a wish has been fulfilled.

  • August

    Bon Festival

    This is a Buddhist event which calls for a memorial service for the spirits of ancestors. It happens from 13th to 15th August.

    As the spirits of the dead are said to return to this world at this time, fires are lit at the entrances to homes so the spirits will not lose their way. In addition to lanterns being lit inside homes, Buddhist home altars are tidied up and vegetables and fruit are laid out as offerings. When the Bon Festival is over, the spirits are sent on their way. This is called the escorting of the spirits, where fires to send them on their way are lit at entrances of homes and offerings float on rivers and oceans.

  • September

    ( けいろうのひ )

    Respect-for-the-Aged Day

    The third Monday of September is Keiro-no-hi (Respect-for-the-Aged Day), a national holiday. It is a day to honour the aged, celebrate their long lives, pray for their good health, and deepen understanding on the issues of welfare for senior citizens.

    On this day, regional governments and Respect-for-the Aged associations organize all kinds of events, such as variety shows, as well as donate mementos. Volunteers make visits to old people's homes. As Japan has the world's longest life expectancy, this national holiday is likely to become increasingly more important.

  • October


    In Japan, cats are regarded as auspicious and, at the same time, fierce. The way they clean their faces looks as if they are inviting good luck, so cats with that gesture are represented by an auspicious ornament called the 'beckoning cat’ (maneki-neko). On the other hand, there was a time when cats were thought to be able to transform into monsters. Among the many Japanese monsters is the 'monster cat’. Today, with pet ownership booming, Japanese keep cats from all over the world, but traditionally valued is the tortoiseshell tom cat (mike-neko).

  • November


    Omamori (talismans) are said to summon good fortune and expel evil, so prayers and names of temples, shrines or divinities are written on pieces of wood or paper. They are usually sold at Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. Prayer requests are varied, such as for traffic safety, passing a school's entrance examination, business prosperity, good health and easy childbirth.

    One can keep omamori with oneself all the time, be it hung in cars, placed at home or attached to pillars or gates. It is very common in Japan to present omamori to family members or friends who are leaving for travel or doing dangerous work , and also to pray for their safety and health.

  • December

    New Year's Eve

    The last day of the year, December 31st, is called Omisoka. To welcome the New Year with good feelings, a general house cleaning is done. The flooring rush mats (tatami) are re-covered and the sliding paper screens (shoji) are re-papered, family reunions are held and the whole family ushers in the New Year with a sense of togetherness.

    At about midnight, bells speeding the passing of the old year (joya-no-kane) begin ringing at temples all around the country. According to Buddhist teachings, human beings have 108 worldly desires which are removed by striking the bell symbolizing the passing of the old year 108 times. While listening to the sound of the bells, people eat year-crossing soba (toshikoshi-soba) which became widespread in the Edo Period (1603-1867) in the hope of a long life because soba is fine and long.
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2013 archive

Know Japan
2012 archive

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2011 archive

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2010 archive

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2009 archive

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2008 archive

Japanese Customs
2007 archive

Japanese Customs
2006 archive

Japanese Festivals
2005 archive