Life Through Seasons in Japan

Unique Seasonal Traditions in Japan

Last Updated on 2024-03-26 by Teni

Spring is in full swing, and with it, the start of a new fiscal and academic year in Japan. In order to keep track of all the cultural festivities to come, I’ve crafted a reference guide to unique seasonal traditions in Japan, which honestly, make my “busy” social calendar (a.k.a. snuggling with a good manga series) look underwhelming. 

Unique Seasonal Traditions in Japan

SPRING

Hina Matsuri: Dolls, Drama, and Delightful Celebrations

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Girls’ Day or Hina Matsuri is where dolls steal the spotlight. Dive into a world of elegance as families display intricate doll sets, wishing for their daughters’ prosperity. It’s like a mini royal court right at home!

Read more here: Hina Matsuri, A Childhood Celebration For Girls Across Japan

Ohigan: Guilt-Free Ancestorial Veneration

Twice a year, as the seasons flirt between cold and warm, Ohigan comes around. It’s when families come together, not just to enjoy seasonal transitions but to honor past generations. Think of it as Obon, but with more flowers and less formalities.

Hanami: Beautiful Reminders of Life’s Impermanence

 

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Nothing screams “spring in Japan” louder than the sound of hay fever-induced sneezes and sniffles as cherry blossoms bloom across the country. Unfortunately, cherry blossoms turn parks into Instagram battlegrounds, so visit at night for relaxing yozakura, the night-time cherry blossom viewing. It’s ohanami’s mysterious cousin, offering beauty under the moonlight, because who said flowers need beauty sleep?

Easter: Eggs and Sakura Surprises

Easter in Japan is an egg-stravaganza, with a cherry blossom twist. Picture pastel eggs, limited-edition doughnuts and sakura-themed treats, and maybe even a bunny or two hopping around! Woefully missing, however, is everyone attending church in their Sunday best. 

Read more here: The Curious Case of Easter in Japan

Children’s Day: Carp Kites and Samurai Swagger

Fast forward to May, where Children’s Day unleashes a parade of koi fish kites soaring high. Why? Because these resilient fish symbolize courage – a bit like the mini-samurais in training!

Read more here: Hatsu Sekku — Momo no Sekku and Tango no Sekku

SUMMER

Tanabata: Love Across the Milky Way

 

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Celebrated on the seventh day of the seventh month, this festival brings a cosmic romance vibe. Legend has it that once a year, the separated lovers, Orihime and Hikoboshi, are allowed to meet across the Milky Way. On this day, children put their hopes and dreams on colorful paper strips, hanging them on bamboo branches in hopes they’ll come true.

Read more here: Tanabata, The Star Festival and Day Of Wishes

Hanabi: Fireworks Extravaganza

 

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Get ready to light up the night sky because hanabi, or fireworks festivals, are like the grand finale of summer in Japan! Picture this: crowds gathering in yukata, the air buzzing with excitement, and the scent of yakitori mingling with the anticipation. It’s a spectacle that turns every corner into a front-row seat for a dazzling display of colors and shapes. But, hanabi isn’t just about watching the sparks fly; it’s about making memories that glow as brightly as the fireworks themselves.

FALL

Obon: Spirits, Lanterns, and Family Bonds

 

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Obon is like Japan’s spiritual family reunion. Lanterns light the way for ancestral spirits, bringing families together for heartfelt ceremonies. It’s a time for reflection, remembrance, and unity.

Read more here: Life In Japan: The Dos and Donts Of Obon

Otsukimi: Moonlight Delight

 

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When autumn rolls around, it’s time for Otsukimi, the celebration of the Harvest Moon, when the moon is at its biggest and brightest. It’s the perfect night for moon-viewing parties, chowing down on Otsukimi inspired burgers, and reminiscing about our childhood friend, Tsukino Usagi, pretty guardian of the moon.

Read more here: Celebrate Fall and Japanese Culture With This Simple Otsukimi Craft

Halloween: Kawaii Costumes and Spooky Delights

 

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Hallowween is catching on in Japan – and I’m here for it! In Japan, spooky season is all about kawaii costumes and spook-tacular treats. Trick or treat with a side of adorable – the Japanese way!

Read more here: Halloween Is Catching On in Japan and I’m Here For It

WINTER

Christmas: KFC and Illuminations

 

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Forget about turkey, Japan rocks Christmas with KFC feasts and dazzling illuminations. It’s the most wonderful time to munch on fried chicken and soak in the magical lights!

Oshogatsu: Ringing in the New Year with a Coin Symphony

 

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Ah, Oshogatsu, where everything is shut down because everyone’s kicking off the New Year with family, feasting on osechi-ryori, and making wishes for the year ahead. New Year in Japan is all about the warmth of family bonds and the promise of new beginnings… and gift money bestowed upon by relatives to grant good luck and prosperity for the year ahead. 

Read more here: Unique Seasonal Traditions in Japan

Hatsumode: Say A Prayer For The New Year

 

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After the clock strikes midnight but before the hangover has begun it’s time for Hatsumode. It’s the spiritual equivalent of calling dibs on good fortune for the year. People flock to shrines and temples, tossing coins, praying, and grabbing omikuji (fortune slips) that hopefully say something better than “Maybe next year, pal.”

Setsubun: Japan’s Bean-Throwing Festival

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Setsubun, which translates to “seasonal division,” is an annual event celebrated in Japan to mark the transition from winter to spring. One of the most well-known customs of Setsubun is mamemaki, or bean throwing. During this ritual, people throw roasted soybeans, called fukumame. This act is believed to ward off evil spirits and invite good fortune and happiness into the home for the coming year.

Setsubun is also celebrated with other customs, such as eating ehomaki, a type of sushi roll eaten in silence while facing the year’s lucky direction, determined by the Chinese zodiac.

Read more here: Setsubun, The Japanese Way to Bring Good Luck to Your Home

Unique Seasonal Traditions in Japan

And there you have it – A quick tour through Japan’s seasonal traditions, making every season an excuse to celebrate with limited edition snacks and drinks. Missed a few? Probably, because Japan’s calendar is packed tighter than the Tozai Metro subway car at rush hour. I’d love to hear about your own seasonal adventures in the Land of the Rising Sun. How does your household blend cultures? 

 

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