Fact of Japan - Rituals and Festivals
The Japanese have many rituals and countless festivals, even before the era or warriors and believe in them so much that they still carry them out in a respectably noble way. They have rituals or holiday for almost every occasion and so it is always quite interesting to know the rituals and the myths associated with those rituals as well. The most known among them are widespread and the dates might change each year in some cases.
The Japanese ritual suicide is called as Seppuku. Harakiri is basically the term in common language. It straight away means stomach cutting. It is such a painful technique or method of self destruction. This actually emerged after the entry of Samurai warriors who preferred Harakiri rather than dying from another’s hand. It is a noble death. This needs very formal preparation, great etiquette and witness as well. The location is usually a temple, villa, garden or inside homes. There must be a Kaishaku, who is an assistant, who has to cut the victim’s head once he has sliced through his stomach. He is usually a relative or close friend. This is done calmly and without any flinching.
New Year’s Day is festival of celebration all through Japan. The house is cleaned and new clothes are worn. Many people make is a ritual to go to the Buddhist temple to hear the 108 bongs that are supposed to drive away 108 sins of humans. Of course, Kimono is the special dress on this day.
Valentine’s day is also a celebration in Japan where girls give chocolates to boys.
Hina Matsuri is a Doll’s festival and it happens on March 3rd. From mid February to End of February the dolls are put out. Usually a prince and princess feature most in the dolls. This is on a hope that the girls will grow up very happy and healthy.
Hanami (Sakura), is the coming of the cherry blossoms festival. This is the happiest festival. It actually conveys the coming of Spring. Actually the cherry blossoms fall on the ground and disappear just in a couple of weeks signifying the transitory nature of the youth. On this day youths flock to the trees and make wild parties under the trees until the wee hours.
Setsubun is a spring ritual in which Japanese drive the bad luck in Oni form (devils) away and out of their homes with quite a handful of tossed beans. At temples, a mame maki, that is throwing beans and many other things on a gathered crowd.
The Shichi-Go-san is a unique Japanese festival. Boys 3 to 5 years old and girls 3 to 7 years old are taken to the Shinto Shrine in their very first Kimono. The parents pray for their health. Gifts are given to the young ones.
Meri Kurisumasu is Merry Christmas, and in a country with 99% non Christians Xmas is celebrated in great style as well.
Danjiri Matsuri is typically called rough festival wherein a large shrine is run all through the town and cities and often it collides with the spectators as well.
The Japanese Greeting rituals are the special ones. They bow and greet one another. They add ‘san’ as a suffix to the name. When bowing, males keep their hands straight and down at the side. The palms must face inward. The females keep their arms straight down but they keep it in front of them. Their hands should be crossed and palms must face down. The length and depth of each bow depends mainly on the relationship with the other one.
Water rituals are quite famous in Japan. For almost everything from sickness to well being the water rituals are performed. It is being done because of its cleansing properties and is also believed to drive away evil spirits.
The birth ritual consists of taking the newborn to the Shinto shrine and introducing the new born to the God. The God protects the baby is the belief. Traditional clothing, Kimono, is mostly worn by the mother.
The Marriage is ceremony is mostly Buddhist. Both of couple wear Kimonos and the bride a white headdress. They both drink three times from three cups containing sacred wine and wow to live together in life. The reception costumes may change.
Tenjin Matsuri is another festival in which portable shrines are taken out in procession. Traditional clothes are worn and at night they are carried to the river and let go off them. Lot of fireworks is displayed.
Hanazumo Matsuri is a is a festival where children of all the ages are gathered from the precincts and are left to compete in the sport of Gods, the sumo. It is also called as the crying baby festival. This is a mock competition prior to the actual sumo competition to wish good luck to the babies. Before the competition many offerings are made to the Shinto Gods.
Omizutori is also known as Water-drawing ceremony. It happens on the balconies of Nigatsudo Temple which is in Nara. During the ceremony, monks come out with torch on the balcony and a large number of spectators watch them from below. Monks parade around the balcony first and then at some point of time they spin madly around the balcony so that the ambers fall on spectators which are believe to be of purifying powers.
Tango-no-sekku is Japanese Boy's festival and it happens on March 5th, which is Children’s day in Japan. They hang the carp streamers, also known as Koinobori, around their houses. It is a colorful festival.
Sapporo Snow festival is the most popular winter festival that happens in Sapporo for one week in February. The main feature of this festival is snow and ice sculptures and is is celebrated in a grand manner.
Aomori Nebuta Festival is another colorful festival with colorful lantern floats. They are called Nebuta. These are pulled through the city streets in Aomori. This happens in August 2 to 7. There is dance and those Haneto dancers wear very special costumes.
Nango Summer Jazz Festival happens in Nango and many artists from different place join the festival and perform.
Tanabata is a festival in which people write their wishes in a narrow strip of color paper. They hang them on bamboo branches.
The Funeral ceremonies are usually Buddhist ceremonies in Japan. First the deceased person’s lips are moistened purely with water. This ceremony is called water of the last moment. Then the shrine in the house is closed and then it is covered with white paper. This is to keep out the bad or impure spirits of the deceased. This is also called as Kamidana-fuji. A table is decorated with flowers, a candle and incense is placed close to the dead. Finally a knife is placed on the chest of the dead body in order to drive away the evil spirits. The eldest son organizes the funeral. Then the body is washed. After which orifices are usually blocked with gauze or cotton. The males have suites while the females have Kimono for the final ritual. The body is then kept on dry ice within the casket. A white Kimono, six coins and sandals and the items that are burnable which the deceased were fond of are also placed inside the casket. The casket is kept on an alter with the head usually facing the North. While in life the Kimono is placed with the left side always over the right, in death it is reversed. All guests wear black dress. The funeral happens day after the wake, in general. At funeral, the incense is placed and priests chant the sutra. And the deceased is given a different name at this time.
There are many more rituals and colorful festiwals. They are being celebrated at many small places as well. They are truly amazing and are followed till this day.
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