I was reading a post on writing friend Michelle Tran’s blog some time ago. She talked about celebrating Lunar New Year and how she wanted to incorporate more of the Vietnamese traditions she grew up with to celebrate the holiday.
Which got me thinking about Japanese holidays or traditions that I’ve celebrated since I was a child. Of course, it seems totally second nature to me in some ways, but actually, some of these celebrations have fallen by the wayside as my cousins and I have grown up.
And I realized that I should blog about it, because, um, why not? Also, it’s St. Patrick’s Day, so let’s write about the other half of my heritage!
New Year’s Day
Japan does not celebrate Lunar New Year. Japanese New Year is January 1st. But it’s a super important holiday! It’s called shogatsu in Japanese (o-shogatsu) and when you see people, you say, “Akemashite omedetou.” I have no idea what the literal translation is.
Then there’s symbolic food. It’s called osechi and each food symbolizes something, like hopes for good health, money in the New Year, more children, etc. Along with that is the ozoni–soup with a mochi in it–and we drink otosu (sake).
Our family does a Buddhist chant before we eat and drink for most of the day while we doze and watch the taped Kohaku Uta Gassen on NHK–Kohaku is a very long, New Year’s Eve music show featuring many popular Japanese bands and singers.
Also, Japan uses the Chinese Zodiac. I’m year of the tiger, but not if you go by the Chinese lunar calendar because my birthday is before Lunar New Year. Go figure.
It’s Girls’ Day or Doll’s Day, March 3rd. This altar thingy is displayed:
|From Wikipedia. Our display was considerably smaller.|
Each tier contains dolls and some objects. At the top are the Emperor and Empress and on the lower tiers are their attendants, a carriage, a chest of drawers, etc. Mostly, I remember the Hinamatsuri song.
Obon is a Buddhist festival taking place in August, where we honor the ancestors’ spirits. So things like visiting graves and family reunions happen at this time.
When I was 10, my mom and I happened to visit Japan during Obon. My great-grandmother had died the year before, so to remember her, we took part in this procession called Shoro Nagashi.
Apparently, it’s specific to the region that my family’s from.
Basically, the family builds a small boat out of wood and paper. My great-grandmother’s had small bells on it, I think, and the names of her descendants on the boat as well. From her house, four or six men (including my older cousins) carried this boat down the winding streets of Shimabara while the rest of us followed. It’s like a parade almost. I remember tako drums and firecrackers going off. Once we got to the water, the boat went in, carrying the deceased’s spirit and sending it off to the next life.
Lit lanterns are also put in the water to float.