OBON (Bon Festival)
O-bon is an important Buddhist festival to pray for the souls of the dead and conduct services in their memory. During the o-bon holidays, the souls of the ancestors are thought to return to this world from the world beyond. Lanterns are lit at each house to guide the departed souls back home.
During this season, Japanese people had always given thanks for a plentiful harvest. Over times those traditions were gradually combined with Buddhist rituals to become the Bon Festival celebrated today.
On August 14 and 15, people return to their native towns and gather with other family members to honor the souls of their ancestors. They ask Buddhist priest to come to their homes and read special sutras.
Families gather at the graves of their ancestors and clean all around before placing offerings on a special shelf and welcoming the souls back home.
Tanabata (Star Festival)
Legend has it that Vega and Altair, who are separated by the Milky Way, are allowed to meet only once a year on the night of Tanabata or July 7th.
It is said that if you write your wish on a tanzaku (a strip of paper) and hang it on a bamboo grass, your wish will be granted.
A few years ago, my son Kengo wrote that he wanted to be like me. And this year, it seems that he wishes to be a firefighter!
From ancient times, it has been customary to eat somen noodles in the Milky Way in Tanabata. Today, somen is served for lunch at my son’s kindergarten. My son loves somen noodles, so he also had somen noodles for dinner at home.
Tango no Sekku (Children’s Day)
Children’s Day is a Japanese national holiday which takes place annually on May 5th, and it is part of Golden Week Holidays.
The day was originally called “Tango no Sekku”, or Boy’s Festival, was celebrated in order to wish the healthy growth of the boys in the family. Outside of their houses, families with boys fly large carp streamers called “Koinobori”. Inside they display various kinds of warrior dolls or ornamental helmets called Kabuto because they are believed to be symbols of strength and vitality. At night, people put iris leaves and roots in the bath. It is believed that it will purge noxious vapor.
In 1948, this day was designated a national holiday and renamed “Children Day”. It is now a day for boys and girls to celebrate together.
Traditional foods such as “kashiwa-mochi” and “chimaki” are eaten on that day. Kashiwamochi is steamed dumplings filled with sweet red bean paste and wrapped in oak leaves. Oak trees don’t drop their leaves until new shoots have begun to appear. The leaved represents the wish for continuation of the family line and are thus an auspicious part of these traditional sweets. (To see Kashiwamochi, please check this article.)
Chimaki is also dumplings made of glutinous rice, wrapped in bamboo leaves and tied with a piece of rush. This type of sweets came from China and is seen in various forms around Japan. I found the one at the international supermarket in town.
This year, I displayed the koinobori that Kengo created inside of the house and had special chimaki that is made of glutinous rice with chestnuts and read bean paste inside.
Hinamatsuri (Japanese Doll Festival / Girls’ Festival)
The 3rd of March is the traditional and representative spring event day called “Hina Matsuri” in Japan.
Hina Matsuri is a special time to pray for the growth and happiness of Japanese girls. It is also called “Peach-Blossom Festival” because in olden times, people believed that peach blossoms had special powers to drive away evil spirits. According to the lunar calendar, peach blossoms were in full bloom around March 3. This is the reason that even today peach blossoms are always displayed together with Japanese dolls called Hina Ningyo (ひな人形).
There is a tradition if the baby is a girl, the parents of the mother give a traditional dolls called Hina-kazari (ひな飾り) to their daughter’s family. Hina-kazari is a traditional dolls of Emperor, Empress, their servants and accessories on the tiered stand.
In very ancient times, display stands used to consist of just two or three tiers but over the years they grew more elaborate and gorgeous. I had 7 tier Hina-kazari at my house and my younger brother always tried to climb up. His heroic story is still α hot topic every year among my family. His heroic story is still a hot topic every year.
This day, parents having daughter invite their families and friends to celebrate this event. They display Hina-kazari and serve guests traditional dishes. When I was a child, my family always celebrated the Hina Matsuri together. So, this event reminds me of my childhood every year.
Home Party Menu Ideas
If you are planning to celebrate this Japanese family event, here are the recipes that we prepare here in Japan and also I recommend for home party.
🌸 Main : Chirashizushi (Chirashi Sushi)
🌸 Soup : Hamaguri no osuimono (Cherrystone clam soup)
🌸 Side dish : Potato Salad / Chawanmushi
🌸 Dessert : Sakura Mochi / Hinaarare / Hishimochi
🌸 Drink : Amazake
Do you know this?
It is important to dismantle the display and put away the dolls as soon as the festival is over. The dolls’ faces are covered with special soft paper and each item is carefully wrapped and retuned to its designated box.
People have traditionally believed that if the dolls are kept out for too long after the festival, the daughter of the family will have a hard time getting married. I remember that my mother was rushing to clean up when the Hinamatsuri was over. I hope her annual effort worked!?
– Hinamatsuri (Girls’ Festival)
– Seasonal Event : Hina-Matsuri (March 3rd)
The first Day of the Horse in February is called Hatsu-uma. On this day large festivals are held at Inari shrines all over Japan to pray for a good harvest and increased fortune. Inari is the name of the god of farming and Inari Shrines have been very important in people’s lives.
Foxes are believed to be messengers of the god of farming so people make offerings to foxes of their favorite food which is deep-fried bean curd formed into pockets and filled with sushi rice.
In some regions people offer Hatsu-uma dumplings and pray for prosperity in business.
Related food :
Recipe : Inari-zushi (Inari Sushi)
Harikuyo (Memorial Service for Needles)
Do you sew clothing for yourself using needle and thread?
In Japan, sewing was an essential part of everyday life long time ago.
On February 8, women took a day off from their sewing responsibilities and collected the old needles they had used during the previous year. This memorial service for needles is called “Harikuyo” (針供養).
People stuck the needles into a block of tofu or other soft things like cakes of konnyaku (gelatin made from the root of a plant called devil’s tongue). They gave thanks and offered prayers for the repose of the needles. They also prayed for improvement in their sewing skills.
There are some shrines today that perform memorial services for needles. This important tradition is still kept at schools which teach kimono-sewing skills and also at dressmaking schools.
Since my son entered kindergarten, I have more opportunities to sew. To be honest, I’m not good at sewing, but I want to do my best as much as I can. With that in mind, I prepared tofu and konnyaku and offered this event.
Setsubun (節分) comes as soon as the fluttering January is over. This year, Setsubun will be February 2nd for the first time in 124 years since February 2nd, 1897. Setsubun is a seasonal division and has been an important time-honored rite to welcome the New Year by banishing evils and keep the house from calamity.
On the day, we eat “Eho-maki”, sushi roll containing 7 ingredients associated with the Seven Deities of Good Fortune “Shichi-fukujin”, facing the direction of Eho that is most lucky for the year as determined by the Way of Yin and Yang.
This year, I put more than 7 ingredients! I put Japanese omelette, Cucumber, Minced tuna, Kanpyo(seasoned dried gourd strips), Anago(conger eel), Kanikama(fake crab meat), Seasoned shiitake mushrooms, Sprouts and Denbu(sweetened fish powder colored in pink). It is also customary to eat Eho-maki while making a wish in the mind with the eyes closed and without uttering a single word. You will eat the whole roll at a stroke in order not to lose ties. In 2021, the happy direction is South-southeast!!!
If you are interested in making thick sushi roll, please check this recipe! : Thick Sushi Roll
In the olden days, it was customary for women who had been working hard for New Year’s housework to take a break from work as a celebration of the Hatsuka Shogatsu (20th of January). They went to their hometown to take a rest, or some came back from their hometown after the New Year holidays.
Depending on the region, New Year’s treats and rice cakes are eaten up until that day. This is the feeling of gratitude for the fruit of not leaving New Year’s food is also included.
So, I made a Ozoni. Ozoni is a Japanese traditional New Year’s soup and it’s made with mochi (rice cakes), veggies and sometimes seafood. Normally, people eat Ozoni on New Year’s day. But since I have small children who cannot eat mochi so I didn’t make Ozoni on that day this year.
Well, new year’s scene/mood is over! I have to start working or having a break?!
Koshogatsu (Small Shogatsu)
How was the week, everyone?
In Japan, the time between January 1 and 7 is called “Big Shogatu” and the several days around the 15th are called “Small Shogatsu”.
Shogatsu traditions are still continuing here in Japan and my family and I had a lot of mochi and red beans this week.
On January 11th, people take down the kagami-mochi which had been offered to the god of the New Year during Shogatsu. This Japanese seasonal event is called “Kagami-biraki” (鏡開き, Opening the Rice-Cake Offerings). People smash the hardened mochi into pieces with heir hands or small mallet because using a knife or saying the word “break” wold displease the god. This explains the reason this event is called “Opening the Kagami-mochi”. The pieces of hardened mochi are grilled and one or two are put into Zenzai or Oshiruko which is a kind of sweet soup made of simmered red azuki beans, sugar and water. In this way, everyone receives a portion of the god’s blessing to live happily throughout the whole year. If you are interested in Oshiruko recipe tutorial, please check here!
In very ancient times the period between the full moons was considered one month, so the 15th marked the beginning of a new month. Even after Japan began using the solar calendar people continued to celebrate the “Full-Moon New Year” on January 15 and enjoy many special events.
My family and I enjoyed special food that is Azuki porridge! It was the custom to enjoy azuki porridge during “Ko-shogatsu” (Small shogatsu) and pray for good health. In addition, people believed they could predict the abundance of the harvest by how the porridge was cooked and the way it turned out.
I don’t know about this fortune but simply felt so happy and grateful to have these dishes with my family.❤️
Japanese tradition for 1 year old baby : Erabitori
My daughter Sui-chan became 1 year old!
One year passed so fast. My husband and I always talk and laugh a lot about her birth day last year. That day, I had an initial labor pain mid night (around 1am!), but I was trying to forget it because it was two weeks before the scheduled date. So I went asleep until 6am. I was convinced that my daughter would be born today, so I hurriedly started editing my YouTube (It was a Yakisoba recipe video!) until the taxi arrives at 9am. Then, after eating delicious lunch at the hospital, I gave birth Sui-chan within 1 hour! What a busy and funny birth day!!! It was and would be a memorable day forever!
At Sui-chan’s 1st birthday, my family and I did Japan’s traditional fortune game called “erabitori”. We put several items on the floor and wait until Sui-chan picks up the first item.
Those items are…
– Globe (we didn’t have balloon in the house 😅)
– Mirror and comb
– Book (we didn’t have dictionary in the house 😅)
– Spoon and chopsticks
– Pen and brush
Guess what Sui-chan chose! Read More