Cultural Calendar 1
Over the years, fewer and fewer Japanese people have been observing customs and traditions that have been passed down from previous generations. Even though change may be an inevitable part of any culture, it always leaves nostalgic feelings in one's heart to see them disappear. I believe that one of the major attractions to Japan for foreign visitors is the contrast between old and new. However, the new seems to be overwhelming the old these days.

Every month here in this page, we are going to introduce, through photos, cultural events still observed by Japanese people today.

When people hear the word rokugatsu(June), they probably think of tsuyu, the rainy season, with a frown on their face. From early June to the middle of July, except for a few breaks, it rains or is cloudy every day. Although rain at this time of year is crucial for rice to grow and for people to survive the hot and humid summer, the tsuyu rain doesn't get the appreciation that it deserves. It doesn't rain that hard compared to other countries' rainy seasons. In fact, a tsuyu rain is a sprinkle, not a downpour, but the bad weather continues so long that it has been the target of many people's hatred. Japanese people tend to be definitive about their seasons (conscious of the seasonal changes) , especially around tsuyu season, which can be seen in the announcement of the beginning and end of a rainy season by The Meteorological Agency. You sometimes hear the weather reporter saying, " The rain we are having now is not the rainy season rain. The rainy season is expected to be here as soon as this rain finishes." About the only thing that brightens up this month is the fact that many people get married in June, believing a June marriage brings happiness to the newlyweds. I think this belief actually came from the west.


An event in June that's worth mentioning here is rice planting. Around this time throughout Japan, you see farmers riding (or pushing ) machines that are mounted with plants about 10 cm tall (about 4 inches) in fields filled with water. Yes, they are planting rice seedlings! Even though there has been a decrease in the amount of rice Japanese people consume, rice still is the staple food and loved by the majority of people here.

Rice is grown in plastic trays until it gets about 10 cm tall and at the time of planting, it is taken out of those trays and set on the machine to be planted. Although these machines do most of the work, there are spots in a paddy where planting must be done manually. I have planted rice a few times myself when I was in college and it was a lot of fun. Maybe I should organize a Rice Planting Field Trip next year.

Thank you Mr and Mrs. Kubota for letting me take the pictures while you were working!!!
This is the tray in which rice is
grown until the planting time.
They are used so that seedlings
will fit the machines.
Mr.Kubota posing with his rice planting machine
Different type of rice planting
machine. This one has a steering
wheel and a seat for an operator
to sit on.
. He is planting rice.
Mrs.Kubota is planting with her
hands.It's harder than it looks to do
it withyour feet stuck in the mud and constantly bending over.

Speaking of June and the rainy season, one thing that shouldn't be forgotten is Ajisai, hydrangea. This deciduous shrub of the family Saxifragaceae is native to Japan and blossoms light blue to deep purple flowers around the rainy season.



On July 7 th Japan observes another of the seasonal events that originally came from China, way back in the 8th century. It is based on the legend of two stars ---Weaver Star (Vega) and Cowherd(Altair) --- who are supposed to have been lovers and could only meet on the seventh night of the seventh month, though on opposite banks of the River of Heaven (Milky Way). On this day people decorate bamboo branches with ornaments and long strips of colored papers on which they write their wishes and romantic aspiration. Although these days you hardly ever see households having those decorated bamboo branches outside, as seen in a picture , numerous festivals are celebrated throughout Japan. The cities of Sendai and Hiratsuka are particularly known for their elaborate celebrations of the Tanabata Festival.

A bamboo decoration set up at a train station. Close-up shot of the bamboo tree
above. On the pink strip in the middle
it says "I want to make more friends!"
A bamboo tree decoration in the backyard of a house. Bamboo tree decorations at a Tanabata festival in a town called Ogawa.

The Japanese love to give gifts. It is an undeniable fact. Whether it is a formal occasion such as a birthdays and a weddings or just a casual visits to an acquaintances' place, (or often no particular reason at all), people give gifts. Twice a year, in July and December, the traditional and major gift-giving seasons come around. One in July is called Ochugen. During this period people go crazy deciding what to give to their bosses, friends, relatives, teachers, customers or anyone they have become indebted to. Many gift departments especially set up for the Ochugen season in department stores become jam- packed with people who have in their hands a list of people they are going to send gifts to. The word Ochugen is derived from the Chinese word for the 15th of the seventh month of the lunar calendar. It fell on Obon and it was customary to distribute the Obon offerings to relatives and others. However, this custom has secularized over the years. So even though Ochugen season coincides with Obon season, Ochugen gifts are no longer offerings to the soul of the ancestors.

This is a thing called noshigami, which we put on gifts sent during ochugen season. All sorts of things (from gift certificates to fresh meat) are sent as ochugen gifts.
This is a kind of cake called kasutera. As you might be able to imagine from the picture, it tastes like cake without icing. Because of the heat in summer, drinks often make a great ochugen gift
This is a gift box of assorted bottled juices.

Shochu Mimai

In summer people send cards to their friends and relatives to ask how they are coping with the heat and to wish for their good health. Although compared to Nengajyo, Shochumimai is very small in terms of the number of the people who send gifts, still it remains fairly common and takes up a cozy part of memories in summer. After risshu, Aug 7 or 8th (on the lunar calendar, it is the day on which autumn begins) the name of this custom changes to Zansho mimai, which means more like lingering heat greeting.

This is a farily formal (boring) shochumimai card, but you can make it as fun as you like by using pictures and colors. The first two lines read "Shochuu omimai mooshi agemasu"(I hope you are coping well with the heat). It is a set expression you use when you write schochu mimai card


Doyoo Ushino Hi
Every year on a mid-summer day called Doyoo Ushino Hi, unagi (eels) enjoy (or suffer from?) sudden popularity. There is a custom in Japan of eating unagi on Doyoo Ushino Hi, which falls on a day late July or early August. People believe that eating unagi ,which is rich in protein and vitamin A, helps people survive the muggy, exhausting summer. How this custom came to exist is not known, but one theory holds that it was started when a naturalist in the Edo period named Hiraga Gennai, who was also a famous writer, promoted consumption of unagi during the summer.

Many shops try to take advantage of doyoo ushinohi and sell unagi As the pictures show you often can see
unagi being grilled.
It's said that unagi tastes better when they are grilled using charcoal Even though unagi is one of my least
favorite foods, the sauce they use is
very good. Do you eat unagi in your coutnry? Please let me know on the message board.

To this day just the thought of the word "Obon" brings up some excitement in my mind. I am sure lots of people have at least one or two wonderful memories to tell others from Obon as a great number of office workers and self-employed people take a vacation during this period. Obon is a Buddhist observance ----July 13, 14, 15 or Aug 13, 14, 15-------honoring the spirits of ancestors. During this period the spirits of the ancestors are believed to return to their former homes and families. People light fires to welcome the spirits, pray and offer them food and hold dance festivals called Bon odori for their entertainment and then send them on their way again with more firelight.


During Obon an altar called bondana is set up and flowers, food and fruit are offered on it.

Around Obon time, there are summer festivals throughout Japan that feature dancing. They are called Bonodori and held to comfort the souls of people's ancestors. The local people gather in an open space and dance in a circle around a wooden tower with a Japanese drum on it. Even people who don't follow any other Obon customs join in this festival. If you ever have the opportunity to be in Japan around Obon season, please take the time to visit at least one Bonodori!!! I guarantee that it will be an interesting experience for you! And if it's possible at all, please get a hold of a yukata and wear it when you go. Also try to join in the dancing. Don't worry! You don't have to know how to dance. I myself don't know it AT ALL. I always just follow people who know, and many people are the same way.

Since I am a big fan of Bonodori, I just had to take a short video footage of a Bonodori so that you know what it is like!!!

(I am sorry. The Real Video clip is down now.)

I apologize for the very poor quality of the video
clip. The image is almost too dark to make out what's on
it and sound is too low. I promise I will do better next time.

In my neighborhood bonodori has been held on the first weekend after the last day of school before summer vacation (around July 20). Just hearing the music played in bonodori brings back wonderful memories.
Lots of kids love bonodori and the main reason is demise (food stands). For lots of people (including me) bonodori without demise is not really bonodori!!!
This is a picture of mizuame(fruits wrapped in soft, transparent candy.) Lots of females, regardless of age, go to bonodori wearing yukata. I don't know why but you don't see very many males wearing yukata.

To Cultural Calendar 2

National Holidays

Jan 1. Ganjitsu (New Year's Day)
Unlike many western countries, New Year's Day is, by far, the most important and widely celebrated holiday in Japan. On this day, lots of people have family reunions, pay their first visit of the year to a temple or shrine, and eat food especially made for this occasion.
Jan 15. Seijin no hi (Coming-of-Age Day)
This is the day when young people who reached the legal age of twenty during the past year celebrate by attending ceremonies run by the municipal government.
Feb 11 Kenkokukinen no hi (National foundation Day)
Patriotic commemoration of the legendary enthronement in 660 of Japan's first emperor, Jinmu.
Mar 21 (or 20) Shunbun no hi (Vernal Equinox Day)
March 21 is the central day of a seven-day Buddhist memorial service. During this week, Buddhist temples hold special services and people visit their ancestors' graves.
Apr 29. Midori no hi (Green Day)
In 1989, April 29 was designated as a day for nature appreciation. Prior to that , it was observed as the Emperor Showa's birthday.
May 3 Kenpokinen no hi (Constitution Day)
This anniversary marks the establishment of the present Constitution of Japan that was written after World War II.
May 5 Kodomo no hi (Children's Day)
This is a day that people wish for the happiness and the health of Japanese children. Carp streamers are hoisted, and samurai warrior dolls are set up.
July 20 Umi no hi
Sep 15 Keiro no hi (Respect-for-the-Aged Day)
This is a day for honoring Japan's elderly and celebrating their longevity. This day was set aside to commemorate the enactment of Rojin Fukushi Ho (the Law concerning Welfare for the Aged) in 1966.
Sep 23 Shubun no hi (Autumnal Equinox Day)
The central day of a seven-day Buddhist memorial service. Similar to Shunbun no hi (mar 21), temples hold
special services and people visit their ancestors' graves.
Oct 10 Taiku no hi (Sports Day)
This national holiday was established in commemoration of the Tokyo Olympic Games( Oct 10-24, 1964). Lots of sports events are held on this day.
Nov 3 Bunka no hi (Culture Day)
Bunka no hi was established to promote an awareness of the arts and sciences and also to show appreciation to those who contribute to the advancement of culture. Medals are granted to those people.
Nov 23 Kinrokansha no hi (Labor Thanksgiving)
On this day people express gratitude to each other for their hard work throughout the year and for the fruits of the hard work.
Dec 23 Tenno tanjo bi
It is customary on this day for the Imperial Family to appear on the balcony of the Imperial palace to exchange greetings with the public.


Copyright -2000 JUN Japanese Gifts & Souvenirs