Japan has hundreds of widely observed traditions associated with ceremonies, rituals, holidays, celebrations, business and life in general.
Many are valued for making life more interesting. Others are associated with etiquette, politeness, religion or old superstitions. The following represent some of Japan’s most popular traditions.
1. Sunrise on New Year’s Day
The first sunrise (Hatsuhinode) is the sunrise of January 1st (New Year). It is the Japanese tradition of waking up to see the first sunrise of the year on New Year’s Day.
In Japan, families have a big traditional breakfast on New Year’s Day and usually wake up early anyway. The day is associated with numerous rituals and pastimes.☺️
Fukubukuro, literally “lucky bag”, is a Japanese shopping tradition of offering mystery bags of heavily discounted items at New Years. In some cases, expensive prizes may be randomly inserted into the bags.
However, Fukubukuro are a way to clear excess inventory. You may end up with a “depressing bag” filled with unwanted items.
3. Fukusasa Lucky Bamboo Branches
Several shrines in Japan hold a market to sell bamboo branches decorated with lucky items to local business people in January. The biggest of these events, the Toka Ebisu Festival in Osaka attracts more than a million people.
Armies of Miko are hired to decorate the branches known as Fukusasa . Don’t miss it!☺️
4. Furisode Kimono For Young Single Women
Kimono are traditional Japanese formal wear that come in a variety of styles that each has symbolic meaning. For example, Furisode are brightly colored kimono with extremely wide sleeves that hang down below the knees.
These are fairly difficult to wear and are traditionally only worn by young single women. Many women wear Furisode to their Coming of Age Ceremony. When they turn about 25 years of age they may have the kimono altered to have normal sleeves.
5. Dondo Yaki
Dondo Yaki is the tradition of burning lucky items such as Omikuji at Shinto Shrines in January. It’s considered bad form to throw luck items in the trash, instead they should be burned.
Auspicious items sold by shrines are often decorated with the Japanese zodiac symbol of the current year and it’s thought to be bad luck to hold on to them after the year ends.☺️
6. Sumo Salt
Sumo wrestlers purify the ring when they enter by tossing salt up in the air. Some wrestlers are particularly good at making a show of this by tossing the salt dramatically towards the ceiling.
This tradition is related to a ritual known as Harae that’s used to purify Shinto Shrines. Although it’s often translated “purification”, Harae is really an exorcism that’s believed to drive out bad spirits.
7. Yamayaki Mountain Burning
The Japanese language has a single word for burning down a mountain: yamayaki. A yamayaki is a festival that involves burning the vegetation from a mountain before Spring.
These can be visually stunning and are often combined with a fireworks show. Various stories are used to explain how the tradition began including ancient land disputes and problems with wild boars.☺️
8. Doll Floating
Hina Nagashi, or Doll Floating, is an increasingly rare ceremony in Japan that floats traditional Japanese dolls out to sea or down a river. It was historically believed that bad luck could be transfered from children into the dolls and cast out to sea.
Hina Nagashi is still performed on Girl’s Day in Japan at several shrines including Awashima Shrine in Wakayama.
🌸🌸Spring has come🌸🌸
9. Hakama For Graduation
Hakama are a traditional Japanese garment that’s tied over the legs of a kimono. They were historically men’s clothing worn by teachers, samurai and workmen. The first women to wear hakama were teachers and with time the hakama gained an academic image.
As a result, women usually wear hakama to their university graduation ceremonies. This has a similar academic feel as the square academic caps worn to western graduations. Men either wear Hakama or a western suit.☺️
10. Reservations with blue mats
It’s customary to reserve a spot for events in Japan such as festivals, fireworks and hanami with plastic mats, that often happen to be blue. This convention is strictly respected and once a mat is placed, the spot is yours.
There’s no need to stay with the mat. At large events, thousands of mats may be placed and it’s common for people to label their mat with a name. Mats are often placed hours in advance. In the case of company parties, junior salary men are selected to scout a spot early in the afternoon.
11. Each spring, there’s a festival where people parade around with large penises
People from all over Japan head to Kawasaki to celebrate the Kanamara Matsuri, otherwise known as the “Festival of the Steel Phallus.” It’s a celebration of fertility, and you guessed it, the penis. It might remind you of one large bachelorette party with people sucking on penis lollipops and buying other items shaped like a penis.
You can even take your photograph next to giant statues of penises. It’s said that the festival originated in the 17th century by prostitutes who were praying for protection from disease. Today, it’s supposed to raise awareness about safe sex and HIV prevention. Sounds like a good time, and a good way to get in touch with history at the same time.☺️
Koinobori are carp-shaped wind socks that are used to celebrate Children’s Day in Japan. They are related to an ancient Chinese story about a carp who swims up river against the current to become a dragon.
The vigorous movement of Koinobori in the wind is thought to represent a healthy childhood. Millions of Koinobori are put up all over Japan around the time of Golden Week beginning in late April. They are traditionally placed by rivers and in front of the homes of families with children.
13. Fundoshi at Festivals
Fundoshi are traditional Japanese loincloths that were historically worn as men’s underwear and as outwear by laborers and rickshaw drivers.
Today they are commonly worn to festivals. They are also famously worn by sumo wrestlers.☺️
Yukata are inexpensive traditional cotton robes that are widely worn to summer matsuri in Japan. They are worn by both men and women and help to give events a festive feel.
15. Floating Lanterns
The Japanese tradition of floating lanterns in rivers, known as Toro Nagashi is a ceremony that represents the journey of souls to the afterlife. It’s used to celebrate the Japanese Obon Holiday, a time of year when it’s believed that the spirits of loved ones return to the world.
Toro Nagashi ceremonies are also used to commemorate tragic events such as the Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
16. Zabuton Throwing
Autumn is nearly over…
17. Rooster Rakes
Tori-no-ichi, literally “Rooster Rake”, is the Japanese business custom of buying a bamboo rake decorated with lucky symbols at the end of the year. Markets for Tori-no-ichi pop up all over Japan on the days of the rooster in November.
It’s common for business people to negotiate a price for their rake. When a deal is stuck it’s sealed with a traditional hand clapping ritual.☺️
18. Yuzu Baths On The Winter Solstice
Yuzu fruits are added to home baths and onsen around December 21st each year to mark the winter solstice.
This tradition originated more than 200 years ago but historians aren’t sure how it started. Onsen resorts and ryokan use it as a promotional event to attract customers.☺️