Lesson Notes

Unlock In-Depth Explanations & Exclusive Takeaways with Printable Lesson Notes

Unlock Lesson Notes and Transcripts for every single lesson. Sign Up for a Free Lifetime Account and Get 7 Days of Premium Access.

Or sign up using Facebook
Already a Member?

Lesson Transcript

Peter: Top 5 Important Dates in Japan. Hi, everyone, and welcome back to the All About Japanese series. Natsuko-san, what are we talking about today?
Natsuko: The top 5 most important holidays in Japan.
Peter: Japan has a lot of interesting celebrations throughout the year. In this lesson, we’re going to talk about 5 holidays that are near and dear to the hearts of Japanese people. However, we’re going to go in reverse order though, which means we’re going to start with...
Natsuko: Number 5. So, coming in at number 5 is “Coming-of-Age Day,” which is known as Seijin no Hi in Japanese.
Peter: On this day , people who turn 20 during the current school year, which runs from April to March, celebrate their coming of age.
Natsuko: Twenty is the age where one is considered an adult in Japanese society. At that age, they can legally smoke, drink alcohol, and vote.
Peter: And Natsuko-san, what day does that fall on?
Natsuko: Now, it’s on the 2nd Monday in January, but it used to be on January 15th.
Peter: Now, there is a reason that they changed it, right?
Natsuko: Yes. It’s called the “Happy Monday System.”
Peter: No, it was actually part of the decision made by the government to move more holidays to Monday, so that people who work on a 5-day work week can have a 3-day weekend.
Natsuko: Yes!
Peter: And that’s why there are so many Japanese National Holidays that fall on Mondays.
Natsuko: Yes, thanks to this system...we have 3 days’ off. On this day, those who are turning 20 dress up and attend ceremonies that are held at city halls and community centers. Girls usually wear long-sleeved kimonos called furisode, and most guys wear a suit.
Peter: Now, wearing a kimono involves a lot of preparation, right?
Natsuko: Yes, especially those long-sleeved kimonos are hard to put on by yourself. So for this day, most girls will go to a beauty salon to get help with their kimono and their hairstyle. It’s the busiest day of the year for hairstylists.
Peter: It sounds like a lot of people really go all out for it.
Natsuko: Yes! You’ll only turn 20 once, once in your life! So, a lot of people like to get all dressed up.
Peter: Okay. What about number 4? What comes in at number 4?
Natsuko: Number 4 is actually a series of holidays known as “Golden Week.”
Peter: Four holidays, right?
Natsuko: Yes!
Peter: What are they?
Natsuko: The first one is on April 29th which is called “Showa Day” or 昭和の日 (Shōwa no Hi).
Peter: Now, this celebrates the birth of the former emperor, Showa.
Natsuko: The next one is on May 3rd and it’s “Constitutional Memorial Day” or 憲法記念日 (Kenpō Kinenbi).
Peter: This is the day that the New Japanese Constitution was put into effect in 1947.
Natsuko: The next one is on May 4th, which is “Greenery Day” or みどりの日 (Midori no Hi).
Peter: It’s a day that’s dedicated to nature. So in that way, it’s a little similar to Earth Day.
Natsuko: Yes! And the last one is on May 5th, which is “Children’s Day” or こどもの日 (Kodomo no Hi).
Peter: On this day, parents pray for a happy and healthy life for their children. I know a lot of kids in other countries wish they had a Children’s Day.
Natsuko: Oh, yes. So, when combined with the weekend, that’s 6 days off, but lots of people would take off the work days that come in between and end up with over a week off.
Peter: And with that much time off, a lot of people want to travel.
Natsuko: Yes.
Peter: So, everybody in Japan kind of goes on vacation at this time.
Natsuko: Yes. All of the tourist destinations in Japan and abroad become really, really crowded during Golden Week. And it becomes expensive to travel too.
Peter: So while at first it may seem like a good idea, you really have to make sure that you do everything in advance and that you’re ready to brave the crowds and long wait.
Natsuko: Right.
Peter: So how about the summer? Natsuko-san, what summer holidays are there?
Natsuko: In summer, we have O-bon. It usually takes place from August 13th to 15th, but some areas celebrate it in July due to differences in the solar and lunar calendars.
Peter: O-bon is a Buddhist event where people pray for the repose of the souls of their ancestors. If you’re familiar with the Mexican holiday, Day of the Dead, you’ll find that O-bon is similar in many ways.
Natsuko: So, during this time, Japanese people visit their ancestor’s graves and clean them. They believe that the spirits of their ancestors come back to this world to visit their relatives.
Peter: You’ll see a lot of dancing too.
Natsuko: Oh, yes! This is known as Bon odori.
Peter: Natsuko-San, is this the most culture during O-bon?
Natsuko: Maybe, yes.
Peter: And the O-bon dancing seems to go on everywhere.
Natsuko: Yes. People put on yukata, which is a light cotton kimono worn in the summertime. Go to the neighborhood bon odori and dance. They dance in a circle around a tall stage and everyone can join in.
Peter: And then, when O-bon comes to an end, people put floating lanterns into rivers and lakes, and these are meant to guide the spirits back to their world.
Natsuko: Actually, the exact O-bon customs vary from region to region. One of the most famous traditions takes place in Kyoto and it’s called Gozan no Okuribi or Daimonji no Okuribi. Gozan means “five mountains” and Okuribi means “ceremonial bonfire.” So, this is where fires are lit on five mountains.
Peter: The fire spells are kanji and Buddhist-related markings. It’s really pretty interesting to see. They’re very big and you can see actual Japanese kanji characters from the flames in the mountains.
Natsuko: Yes.
Peter: Okay, we’re down to number 2, Natsuko-san?
Natsuko: Number 2 is New Year’s Eve known as Ōmisoka. This day is symbolic in Japan because it’s the last day of the year.
Peter: Now, at the end of the year, many...many interesting customs take place, and one of them is...a lot of people clean their houses and offices in late December.
Natsuko: That’s right. That cleaning is known as 大掃除 (Ōsōji) which literally means “big cleaning.”
Peter: It’s probably comparable to the concept of “spring cleaning.”
Natsuko: Oh, you do it in spring?
Peter: Yeah, except where it’s done at the end of the year here.
Natsuko: Yes. And then on Ōmisoka, a lot of people like to eat toshikoshi soba, which is a type of noodle.
Peter: This tradition comes from the association of long noodles with the wish of “living a long, healthy life.” So the cleaning, loong noodles, these are all customs associated with the end of the year and Ōmisoka. There’s one more, right?
Natsuko: Yes.
Peter: There’s a famous TV program on New Year’s Eve.
Natsuko: Right. While eating toshikoshi soba noodle, a lot of people turn on their TV to watch a popular singing contest. It’s called Kōhaku Uta Gassen.
Peter:This singing contest takes place every New Year’s Eve. The name of the contest is Kōhaku Uta Gassen, which roughly translates to “Red and White Singing Contest.”
Natsuko: This show is the most popular music show of the year, and it’s always interesting to see who is invited to participate in the current year’s Kōhaku. And of course, being involved in Kōhaku is a great honor for singers.
Peter: And there’s something about the colors. Natsuko-san, red is…?
Natsuko: For female singers.
Peter: White?
Natsuko: For male singers.
Peter: So, it’s kind of the guys versus the girls.
Natsuko: Yes!
Peter: And there is a winner declared.
Natsuko: Yes. There is actually a voting.
Peter: Natsuko-san, who votes?
Natsuko: Um, the audience at the hall, and also, the listeners.
Peter: So, it’s kind of like a one-day, winner-take-all, guys very girls American Idol.
Natsuko: Yeah, maybe.
Peter: So you could see why it’s so popular. Kind of to celebrate the year, and a lot of the singers are chosen for doing very well that year.
Natsuko: Yeah. So it’s like a culture recap.
Peter: All right, Natsuko-San, after New Year’s Eve, it’s the most celebrated day of the year in Japan.
Natsuko: That’s right. Number one on our list is New Year’s Day known as お正月 (O-shōgatsu) or 元旦 (Gantan).
Peter: This day is really big in Japan. A lot of people go back to their hometowns to visit their families for New Year’s.
Natsuko: Around New Year’s Day, there are a lot of “firsts.” One of the most common first traditions is called hatsu-mōde. This is the first shrine or temple visit of the year. So many people visit shrines or temples on or around New Year’s Day.
Peter: If you try to go on New Year’s Day or anytime shortly after, it will probably be really crowded.
Natsuko: Yes, usually.
Peter: So just a word of warning. Now, Japanese people eat special cuisine during New Year’s, right?
Natsuko: Yes.
Peter: What’s the name of the cuisine?
Natsuko: O-sechi or O-sechi Ryori .
Peter: We have a nice write-up on the O-sechi dish in the lesson.
Natsuko: Yes.
Peter: So be sure to check that out. But Natsuko-san, other than the O-sechi dish, what else?
Natsuko: Rice cakes. We eat mochi rice cake during New Year’s.
Peter: The Japanese staple food is rice, so Japanese people eat a lot of rice.
Natsuko: Yes.
Peter: But during the New Year’s, people eat mochi rice cakes, instead of regular steamed rice.
Natsuko: Right.
Peter: Natsuko-san, how do you eat it?
Natsuko: For New Year’s, we often put it in a hot soup and eat it. And this soup is called お雑煮 (o-zōni). What’s in the soup and soup’s flavor varies by region.
Peter: And the texture of mochi, it’s kind of interesting.
Natsuko: Yeah! Um, mochi is really soft and chewy and sticky. It’s really good. But for some foreigners, it might be a bit challenging.
Peter: But definitely something you should try. Okay, let’s talk about some New Year’s customs.
Natsuko: One custom is where parents and relatives give money to their children. They give money that is called o-toshidama and it’s usually put into special little envelopes.
Peter: I think a lot of kids look forward to this.
Natsuko: Definitely.
Peter: About how much money do they receive?
Natsuko: According to a survey, in 2009, the average amount that elementary school and middle-school students received was ¥30,000.
Peter: So, in 2009, about 300 US dollars. So with that, we’ve covered the 5 most important holidays in Japan.
Natsuko: We hope that you have a chance to visit Japan during one of these holidays, so that you can experience it for yourself.
Peter: Join us next time for more information on Japan and Japanese at JapanesePod101.com.
Natsuko: So, じゃあ、また (jā, mata).