Translated by Briony Dunbar
From March To May - Experience Japan's Spring Festivals And Events
Written by MATCHA
There are many traditional festivals and events in Japan all year round, and spring is no exception. Hanami, Hinamatsuri, the Kanda Festival - when visiting Japan in the spring, make sure to check out these and other seasonal events!
Spring arrives in Japan as the cold winter eases up, the sunlight starts to glisten, and the plants and trees start to bloom. The Japanese refer to this as haruranman (spring in full bloom) and view it as a positive season full of hope. Let’s take a look at the spring festivals and events in Japan.
Festivals and Events in March
Omizutori, which is held for two weeks from March 1st every year at Nara’s Todai-ji Temple’s Nigatsu-do Hall, is a rite in which you confess your sins in front of the Buddha and pray for world peace and bountiful harvests. It is an old rite which has not ceased since the eighth century and is known as the “rite which foretells the coming of spring” since it begins to get warm by the time Omizutori ends.
Photo By Eiji Murakami
Omizutori reaches its climax at midnight on March 12th (around 1:30 AM on the 13th). A large kago-taimatsu cedarwood torch (*1) is lit, and a ceremony is held in which okozui (water taken from a well called Wakasai in order to be offered to Kannon bodhisattva) is drawn up.
It's a dynamic event and well worth seeing, but keep in mind it will be very crowded on this day and admission is limited to a certain number of people. Even before the 12th, however, you can enjoy the majestic atmosphere of the torches being lit up every night at 7 PM along with the large bell being rung. Those who just want to watch should check this out, too.
Photo By iwayoshi
*1 Kago-taimatsu: a torch about 1m in diameter, with roots cedar leaves and shingle or cedar sheets woven into a basket-like shape onto the tip of a roughly 6m long bamboo. Torches commonly refer to a light source created by bundling bamboo, Japanese nutmeg and dead leaves and lighting the tip.
Held on March 3rd, Hinamatsuri is a rite in which people wish for the healthy growth of girls. Households with young daughters usually set up a multi-tiered display decorated with showy dolls wearing traditional aristocratic clothing. These Hina dolls represent the Imperial family and court of the Heian era. The house is decorated with peach blossoms in addition to the Hina dolls, and special drinks and dishes including shirozake (*2), chirashi-zushi (*3) and soup with clams are enjoyed by the family.
At Hokyoji Temple, known for its “Temple of Dolls”, items such as dolls owned by female royals are displayed every year from March 1st to April 3rd. On March 1st (11:00 to 11:30), Japanese dances as well as playing of the biwa (Japanese lute) and singing are presented in the main hall decorated with dolls.
*2 Shirozake: sweet white sake, an alcoholic drink made by preparing alcohol such as shochu with steamed glutinous rice and malted rice, then letting it mature for about a month, and lightly grinding it to a viscous liquid; it has an alcohol content of about 9%.
*3 Chirashi-zushi: sushi made by sprinkling ingredients such as kinshi-tamago (finely sliced strips of scrambled egg), shrimp, anago (grilled conger eel), and other ingredients over vinegared rice.