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att. Culture - Calendar - Japan Now
att. Culture - Calendar - Japan Now
att.JAPAN Issue 25, November 2005

Calendar - Japan Now - November-December


Illuminations Trees in towns all over Japan turn red and yellow come November and December as many of the illuminated town centers prove focal points for either Christmas shoppers or company and personal festive and end-of-year related events towards the end of December. In traditional Japanese style however, the day after Christmas; Boxing Day, the Santa displays are soon replaced with those targeting New Year's celebrations.

 Holidays and Events
November 3rd is Japanese Culture Day and a national holiday. It was established in commemoration of the day the Constitution of Japan which was promulgated in 1946. Nowadays, those contributing to the field of science and technology, arts and crafts, and literature are given Bunka Kunsho or Order of Cultural Merit awards on this day.
November 15th in Japan is the day of 'shichi-go-san' (seven, five, three). Shichi-go-san is an event in which parents celebrate their children's growth to date and mothers and fathers all over the country take their 3 and 5-year-old boys and / or 3 and 7-year-old girls to shrines to pray for their future. Some boys wear haori, a traditional type of half-coat and hakama - a divided skirt. Girls usually wear kimono.
Kinro-kansha-no-hi (Labor Thanksgiving Day) is another national holiday, this time on November 23rd and is the day to respect working, to celebrate plentiful harvests and to appreciate the hardworking people in society. The day was originally called niiname-sai; the day new crops were offered to the gods with gratitude and to pray for an abundant crop the following year.
Toji, or the winter solstice in Japanese, often called the shortest day of the year in Europe, is the day with the least amount of daylight in any given year and has, centered on it, various customs to pray for safety such as taking a hot citron bath or eating pumpkin and rice gruel with azuki-beans.

 Festivals
Tori-no-Ichi Tori-no-Ichi fairs held each November tell visitors and locals alike that the end of the year approaches. Otori shrines the length and breadth of the nation hold fairs on the traditional days of the bird and sell kumade (bamboo rakes), which are believed to "rake in" good luck.
At Chichibu Shrine in Chichibu City, Saitama Prefecture, the annual and very famous Chichibu-yomatsuri is held from December 2nd to 3rd. The dynamic beating of Japanese drums, the gorgeous kasa-hoko and other floats, kabuki, dancing and fireworks displays attract a great number of people both day and night.
Under the old lunar calendar, October used to be called "kaminazuki," meaning the month in which there are no gods. At this time it was believed that all Japanese gods gathered in Izumo Taisha Shrine, in Shimane Prefecture with the resulting name of "kamiarizuki," meaning 'the month there 'are' no gods' in Izumo. Under the modern calendar, the gods gather between November 12th and 18th, and a Kamiari-sai festival takes place at Izumo Taisha Shrine on November 12th, 16th and 18th.
An hagoita (battledore) market is held annually at Sensoji Temple, Tokyo, from December 17th to the 19th as around 50 shops sell battledores in front of the Hozo-mon gate to the temple grounds. Approximately 50 thousand battledores, with prices ranging from 1000 yen to 600,000 yen are sold at this time.

 Customs
Oseibo, (winter gifts), are a traditional custom during this season to show appreciation of those who have taken care of the sender or to apologize for extended silences on the part of the sender. They are delivered between early December and the 25th and are usually sent to, for example, company supervisors, business clients, parents, brothers and sisters, relatives, teachers, marriage go-betweens, and family doctors.
New Year's postcards 1949 was the year New Year's postcards with lottery numbers were first sold and today many Japanese are overwhelmed with the number of postcards they must write. However, whilst it used to be troublesome for those who sent a pile of cards only to write their recipients' address, as they had to write the address by hand, now, by printing the address using a PC, another of life's annual tasks has been made a little easier although the numbers sent do still take time and effort. In Japan, exchanging New Year's postcards is like exchanging Christmas cards bar for the fact that Japanese do not send cards to those in mourning over the past 12 months. The postcards themselves are significant in helping to maintain good relations with friends or acquaintances by expressing gratitude to those who have taken care of them, informing friends and family of recent news and asking after the recipients. Unlike Christmas cards though, New Year's postcards must not be delivered before the New Year's Day and even if you drop them into a post box in mid-December, they are delivered on the morning of January 1st.
Business areas in December are always full of the spirit of a commercial Christmas and are decorated with brilliant illuminations as early as November. Engaged or dating couples often go out on dates on Christmas Eve in a throw over from the time the Taisho Emperor died on Christmas Day and celebrations were considered unseemly. In spite of the hustle and bustle of town centers, out they go to restaurants fully booked and increasing their prices due to it being Christmas. At home, many families eat turkey, roast chicken and cakes, and exchange their gifts under poinsettia decorated Christmas trees.
Another angle of Christmas in Japan are the scores and scores of yearend parties that take place in December leaving downtown areas crowded with drunken partygoers and filling last trains with those headed home to sleep it off.
In Japan, it is a seasonal norm to clean the house thoroughly prior to New Year's Day. Although few houses continue to decorate gates with pine branches nowadays, adding a "shimenawa" stylized straw rope (that separates sacred Shinto precincts from the unclean outer world) to our cars or homes is usual.
osechi December 31, "oomisoka" (New Year's Eve) is an important day to spend wrapping up the old year and preparing for the next. Decades ago, preparation for New Year used to make people very busy, making rice cakes and cooking osechi (a special New Year's dish) but lately increasing numbers of families opt to buy pre-cooked osechi at department stores or high-class Japanese-style restaurants. At home on New Year's Eve, family members often eat soba (buckwheat noodles) and stay up until the early hours of New Year's Day watching televisions or listening to radios broadcasting annual music programs -- programs that always seem to include a performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. At midnight temples ring bells 108 times to speed out the old year and welcome in the new in an event called "joya-no-kane."
As the season progresses and the mercury plummets warmer clothing such as sweaters, thick jackets and coats is necessary to fend off the inevitable flu bug that goes around with Jack Frost. Many people start to eat food cooked by boiling or stewing at this time and one-pot dishes cooked at the table are popular for their ability to warm our body.

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