Japanese Festivals in February

Setsubun 2013

Setsubun at Mibudera © ExtendedStayKyoto/Flickr

Japanese culture has a very large number of festivals. All these have traditional backgrounds and they are considered to be important events of the calendar. Japanese festivals usually celebrate life and death, but most of them are resounded joyfully.

February, the second month of the year is symbolizing the approaching spring. Though everyone in Japan is waiting for the springtime, the February air is still cold and carries snow. February festivals are good ways for forgetting the cruelty of the weather and to get prepared for spring. Three major festivals are held in February. In the following part, you will be introduced to the traditions of Japanese festivals in February.



Women throwing bean on Setsubun  ©ヘタレ・ムムリク/Flickr

Setsubun, or Bean-throwing Festival represents the first day of spring in Japan. It is celebrated on the 3rd day of February every year and the best translation of its name is ‘seasonal division’. Though it is not a national holiday, Setsubun is very popular throughout the whole country.

According to ancient beliefs, before spring the evil spirits must be chased away. The purpose of this holiday is exactly this. By throwing roasted beans around temples and houses, the evil spirits are ‘forced’ to leave these places. When people throw the beans, they shout: ‘Devils out, happiness in!’ (in Japanese: ‘Oni wa seto! Fuku wa uchi!’). After doing this, people pick up beans corresponding to their age and they eat it. Throughout the country, Setsubun has many variations of celebrating,but this is the most popular tradition of this day.



Risshun decorations ©IvanWalsh.com/Flickr

Risshun (or Lichun) represents the last days of winter and the first days of spring in Japan. Setsubun is the day before Risshun, so Risshun falls on February 4th, and it ends on 18 or 19 February. It signifies spring in many East-Asian cultures. Since the Traditional New Year falls in this period, Risshun becomes an even more important festival.

Risshun is not as celebrated as Setsubun, but it also has some rituals. For example, Zen Buddhist Temples put messages on the entrances: Risshun Daikichi (Beginning of spring). Drinking Risshun Asashibori, a type of sake is also associated with Risshun traditions.




Hari Kuyou Poster ©Arenamontanus/Flickr

Hari Kuyou, or the Memorial Service for Needles ‘commemorates’ old sewing needles and pins. Japanese people pray to console their old and broken needles. It may sound strange, but Hari Kuyou is a vey kind and beautiful Japanese tradition. It is held for the dead spirits of objects or for things which became old and useless.

Hari Kuyou is celebrated on 8 February every year. Broken and old needles are stuck in tofu or konnyaku and they are brought and offered to Shinto shrines. This ceremony usually brings together Japanese women.


Setsubun 2013

Celebration of Setsubun at Mibudera Temple in 2013 ©ExtendedStayKyoto/Flickr


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