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We’re preparing to celebrate Respect for the Aged Day, or Keirō no Hi, a national Japanese holiday that honours the elderly.
This cultural celebration features fascinating traditions including Keirokai shows filled with songs and dances, and traditional Japanese foods.
Although originally held on the 15th of September, Respect for the Aged Day is now celebrated on the third Monday of September due to the Happy Monday System – a system put in place to ensure Japanese holidays fall on Mondays to allow for three day weekends.
If you’ve travelled to Japan or spent time with Japanese people you may have been lucky enough to take part in some beautiful celebrations and traditions similar to those observed on Respect for the Aged Day.
Some traditions are only practiced in certain areas, whilst some have become commercialised, but they stem from fascinating cultural practices and customs.
Have you heard of these Japanese traditions?
1. Japanese people traditionally wear red on their 60th birthday as 60 years is thought to be one cycle and after that time it is thought that you become a baby again. Babies in Japan are often dressed in red clothing for protection.
2. Toro Nagashi ceremonies involve floating lanterns in rivers, used to represent the journey of souls to the afterlife. They are used to commemorate tragic events such as the Hiroshima bombing.
3. In Japan, a festival called ‘yamayaki’ celebrates burning the vegetation on a mountain before spring. The burning is often combined with a stunning fireworks show.
4. Dondo Yaki refers to the tradition of burning lucky items at Shinto Shrines in January. Auspicious items are often decorated with zodiac symbols of the current year and it is considered bad luck to keep them once that year ends. However, throwing them in the trash is also bad luck, leading to Dondo Yaki.
5. Chopstick etiquette is important in Japan and it is expected that food not be passed from one person’s chopsticks to another’s, and no two people should pick up the same piece of food. This is similar to a funeral ritual and should not take place over a normal meal.
6. Sumo matches are common in Japan, with thousands attending to watch. Many sumo stadiums typically offer pillow seats to those sitting in a tatami mat section close to the action. Interestingly, it is customary to vent your frustration by throwing your pillow, although we recommend keeping an eye out for the locals doing this before you start.
7. You may also notice that sumo wrestlers ‘purify’ the ring by tossing salt into the air when they enter, believing it will drive out bad spirits.
8. Office Christmas parties are a little different in Japan, they are called Bonenkai parties which literally means it is called a “forget the year party”. People also throw Bonenkai parties with friends.
9. Japanese business people also mark the end of the year by buying a ‘Tori-no-ichi’ meaning “Rooster Rake”, a bamboo rake decorated with lucky symbols.
10. Somewhat surprisingly, it is very popular to eat KFC for Christmas Eve dinner in Japan. This is said to have started as a substitute for the western custom of eating a turkey dinner, which is difficult to find in Japan and most city dwellings have small ovens. KFC has encouraged this tradition to grow in popularity by offering Christmas themed meals.
11. For special occasions such as New Years, many families make traditional rice cakes called Mochi, by pounding mochigome rice with a large wooden mallet to create a paste that is formed into shapes.
12. Families will also wake up early to see the first sunrise of the year or “Hatsuhi” on New Year’s Day, and eat a big traditional breakfast.
13. Eating ehomaki is a tradition that started in Osaka and involves eating a very large uncut roll of sushi whilst facing a lucky direction that changes each year.
14. Gift giving is common in Japan, however, gifts in sets of four are usually avoided as the Japanese word for ‘four’ is pronounced the same as the word ‘death’ and considered an unlucky number.
15. Miyamairi or ‘shrine visit’ is a Japanese newborn baby’s traditional rite of passage. The practice shows gratitude to the deities for the birth of the child and also requests a shrine priest to say a prayer for the baby’s health and happiness. This visit traditionally takes place 31 days after birth for a boy and 33 days for a girl, but can be practiced up to 100 days after birth.
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