Japan has a rich culture and a beautiful heritage. Most Japanese celebrations revolve around the idea of nature and the beauty of the moment, a very Buddhist ideal. A lot of Japanese holidays reflect these ideas and give the modern Japanese men, women and children a reminder of their rich history.
Autumnal Equinox Day occurs in the middle of a seven-day Buddhist memorial service. It comes right after the Moon Viewing, which is the festival of the luckiest moon of the year, the harvest moon. Families make rice dumplings, watch the moon rise, remember their ancestors and pray for a good harvest.
Buddha's birthday is also known as the Flower Festival or "hana matsuri." Buddha was a great sage who discovered a new way of thinking and living that would remove a person from a cycle of suffering. April 8th is the date of the festival and statues of Buddha throughout Japan are "anointed," or bathed in a special tea.
Christmas is a holiday that came to Japan directly from America. There are not a lot of Christians in Japan, so Christmas is a commercial holiday, not a religious one. It is called "Kurisumasu" in Japanese and is an occasion for Japanese friends and family to display decorations and exchange gifts.
There is a ceremony every year at the Imperial Palace on Emperor Akihito's birthday on December 23rd. Though it is usually closed to the public, this beautiful complex opens its gates to the people. Lines usually start forming very early in the morning. The emperor appears to the crowd on a balcony at 10:20 a.m. to cheer.
The August Festival of Souls, or "o-bon" in Japanese culture is the day when ancestor's souls return to this world. On this day, the Japanese visit family graves and pay their respects to the dead. They also practice "shoro-nagashi" - they build paper boats to carry the souls of ancestors down the river and out to sea.
Greenery Day used to be the birthday the Showa Emperor who ruled Japan during World War II. It is a chance for the Japanese to get out in nature and appreciate the beauty of spring. One of the highlights of spring in Japan is the blooming of the beautiful cherry blossoms, for which the island is so famous.
New Year's Day is one of the most important holidays in the Japanese calendar. The point of the three-day festival, called "o-shogatsu," is to wash away the bad luck and bad fortune from the previous year and to invite good fortune for the coming year. Japanese children receive coins to cultivate wealth and happiness.
The Star Festival is a festival of beauty and poetry. Speaking of poetry, the Japanese culture is famous for short and very popular poems called "haiku." The first line of a haiku is 5 syllables, the next line is 7 syllables and the last line is 5 again. Try writing your own!
In America, Valentine's Day is a celebration of love. Unfortunately for men, this holiday has turned into a time for men to impress women. Not so in Japan. In Japan, the women have to shower men with chocolates, cards and flowers. Don't worry, the men make up for it exactly one month later for White Day.
Since women give men gifts on Japanese Valentine's Day, it is only fair that the men give a little something back. Originally, gifts were supposed to be white flowers, white chocolate or diamonds, hence the name of the holiday. It's nice that the Japanese keep the spirit of love going for more than one day!