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Words and Phrases for Japanese Festivals and Holidays

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Japan’s festivals and holidays are an integral part of its culture, steeped in tradition and community spirit. Whether you’re planning a trip to Japan or just want to learn more about its fascinating customs, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the vocabulary associated with these celebrations. Here’s a selection of words and phrases that will help you delve deeper into Japanese festivals and holidays.

祭り (Matsuri)
Matsuri is the Japanese word for festival, and it typically refers to Shinto religious festivals. Matsuri can be seasonal, like harvest festivals, or celebrate local deities or historical events. They often involve processions, traditional music, and sometimes portable shrines (mikoshi).
I’m thinking of going to the town’s matsuri.

花見 (Hanami)
Hanami literally means “flower viewing,” and it’s a popular Japanese custom of enjoying the transient beauty of cherry blossoms (sakura) in spring. People gather in parks with food and drink for picnics under the flowering trees.
I plan to do hanami this weekend.

盆踊り (Bon Odori)
Bon Odori is a traditional dance performed during Obon, a Japanese Buddhist event honoring the spirits of ancestors. The dance varies from region to region, and it’s typically accompanied by music and held in open spaces like parks or temple grounds.
Bon Odori is a wonderful event that brings the community together.

七夕 (Tanabata)
Tanabata, also known as the Star Festival, is celebrated on July 7th. It’s inspired by a Chinese legend and involves writing wishes on tanzaku (small pieces of paper) and hanging them on bamboo branches.
For Tanabata, we write our wishes on tanzaku and tie them to bamboo leaves.

お正月 (Oshogatsu)
Oshogatsu is the Japanese New Year, one of the most important annual festivals in Japan. Traditions include visiting shrines, eating special food like ozoni (soup with mochi), and sending nengajo (New Year’s greeting cards).
For Oshogatsu, we visit the shrine with our family.

こどもの日 (Kodomo no Hi)
Kodomo no Hi, or Children’s Day, is celebrated on May 5th. This holiday respects children’s personalities and celebrates their happiness. Families often fly koinobori (carp-shaped windsocks) to symbolize the wish for their children to grow up strong and healthy.
On Kodomo no Hi, we decorate with koinobori.

餅つき (Mochitsuki)
Mochitsuki is the traditional Japanese method of making mochi (rice cake) by pounding steamed glutinous rice. This activity is common during New Year’s preparations and certain festivals, where people take turns hammering the rice in a mortar with large wooden mallets.
We did mochitsuki for New Year’s preparations.

花火大会 (Hanabi Taikai)
Hanabi Taikai translates to “fireworks festival” and is a summer highlight in Japan. Large-scale firework displays are held at parks, riversides, or beaches, drawing massive crowds who enjoy the spectacular shows.
The Hanabi Taikai is a summer tradition.

Mastering these words and phrases can provide a richer understanding of Japanese culture and enhance your experience during these celebrated times. Not only will they help you communicate with locals, but they also give insight into the traditions and values deeply rooted in Japanese society. Whether you’re reveling in the energetic atmosphere of a matsuri, admiring the fleeting beauty of sakura during hanami, or taking part in mochitsuki with friends, speaking the language will bring you closer to the heart of Japan’s beloved festivals and holidays.

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