Welcome to Cultural Studies class, students! One facet of Japanese culture that shows itself occasionally in anime is the observance of popular holidays and events of the year. Although there are many to discuss, let us focus today on three of the most often featured in anime: the cherry blossom festival, the summer festival, and the celebration of the New Year.
A summer festival
Cherry blossom viewing, or hanami, is one of the most popular events of the year in Japan. The cherry blossoms usually bloom in the beginning or middle of April, although this can vary depending on the weather. As a symbol of purity, the cherry blossom is an important part of Japanese culture. Every spring, crowds of people eat, drink and talk under the beauty of the blossoming trees in the local park. Some groups even bring karaoke machines and alcohol and celebrate well into the night. As April is the time for graduation and the changing of the school year, as well as the time newly elected officials enter office, the cherry blossom festival is a time to celebrate new beginnings. If you want to see hanami featured in anime, see Sailor Moon and Ai Yori Aoshi.
Summer festivals, known as natsu matsuri, are celebrated in July and August. The summer festival can vary from town to town. Some are held to drive away the sleepiness of the summer, while others are to wish for a good harvest. The Obon festival, a traditional event that commemorates the memory of passed family members and friends, is also held late in the summer. Japanese festival-goers often wear yukata (kimonos made of cotton), and children and adults alike partake in the food and game booths that line the street. Fireworks light up the sky at night. Characters in Kimagure Orange Road and Card Captor Sakura visit the booths and games of the summer festival.
Buying fortunes for the New Year
The New Year’s celebration, called shogatsu, is considered to be one of the most important holidays of the year and a time for renewal. A national holiday observed from January 1st to the 3rd, shogatsu is a reflection on the past year and preparation for the new one. On New Year’s Eve, some people take part in the traditional eating of toshikoshi-soba (noodles), said to symbolize long life. At the stroke of midnight, the bell at the local Buddhist temple is rung 108 times as part of a Buddhist belief that those who hear it will be cleansed of the 108 sins of man.
It is also a tradition to visit a shrine or temple on January 1st and to pray for luck in the coming year. Shrines and temples are decorated festively and offer custom good luck charms and fortunes. Visitors to the shrines and temples often wear kimono or dress nicely for the occasion. You can see a visit to temple to pray for the year and receive fortunes in Azumanga Daioh.
January 1st: New Year’s Day
January, 2nd Monday: Coming of Age Day (Seijin-no-hi)
February 14th: Valentine’s Day
March 3rd: Girl’s Festival (Hina Matsuri)
March 14th: White Day
March 21st: Spring Equinox Day (Shunbun-no-hi)
April 29th: Greenery Day (Midori-no-hi)
May 3rd: Constitution Memorial Day (Kenpo Kinenbi)
May 4th: Citizen’s Holiday (Kokumin-no-kyujitsu)
May 5th: Children’s Day (Kodomono-hi)
July 7th: Star Festival (Tanabata)
July 20th: Ocean Day (Umi-no-hi)
August 13-16th: Obon Festivals
September 15th: Respect for the Aged Day (Keirou-no-hi)
September 23rd: Autumn Equinox Day (Shubun-no-hi)
October, 2nd Monday: Sports Day (Taiiku-no-hi)
November 3rd: Culture Day (Bunka-no-hi)
November 23rd: Labor Thanksgiving Day (Kinro-kansha-no-hi)
December 23rd: The Emperor’s Birthday (Tennou-tanjoubi)
December 25th: Christmas
December 31st: New Year’s Eve (Oomisoka)