Web Japan > NIPPONIA No.34 > Special Feature*
NIPPONIA No.34 September 15, 2005

This small cake is shaped like a Japanese apricot (ume), and decorated to resemble red ume petals in early spring. Dough made from bean paste and wheat flour is steamed, creating a pleasing reddish color.
Sapporo Yuki Matsuri (Sapporo Snow Festival)
Sapporo, the largest city in Hokkaido, celebrates winter and snow in the first part of February each year. At Odori Park, you can see more than 150 huge sculptures made of snow and ice, depicting everything from popular TV characters to the architectural masterpieces of the world. When night falls, colorful spotlights make the sculptures sparkle, creating a winter wonderland. You can also take in concerts and other events during your visit there. (Photo credit: JTB Photo)

Setsubun (traditional demon-chasing ritual)
On February 3, the day before winter changes to spring, the Setsubun ritual is performed to chase away harmful influences and bring good luck and happiness. In homes, the custom is to scatter roasted beans while shouting out, "Oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi!"("Out with the demons, in with good luck!"). This custom is called mame-maki. Famous media stars and athletes are invited to some major shrines and temples to do the mame-maki, bringing plenty of extra excitement to the crowds. The photo shows such an event at Kushida Shrine in Fukuoka. (Photo credit: The Mainichi Newspapers Co.)

Entrance examination season
In Japan, the school year starts in April, and school and university entrance examinations are held mainly in February. As tension rises before the exams, students may go to a Tenman-gu shrine to ask for inspiration from the patron saint of learning, Sugawara no Michizane (845-903). They write their wishes on small decorated pieces of wood called ema, and then hang them at the shrine. Until the exam results are announced, parents may visit shrines quite often, with an earnest wish for their children's success.
(Photo credit: The Mainichi Newspapers Co.)

Valentine's Day
According to legend, a Christian bishop, Saint Valentine, was martyred in Rome on February 14, some time around the 3rd century. This date became the day of love in medieval Europe. In Japan since the 1970s, it has become quite common for young women to mark the day by giving chocolates to a man they love or admire. From the beginning of the month until the day itself, you may see women crowding around the chocolate displays at retail outlets. (Photo credit: The Mainichi Newspapers Co.)

Television Broadcasting Commemorative Day
NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation) began regular television broadcasts on this date in 1953. TV sets were very expensive then, but today there is about one TV for every person in the country.
1st to 5th
Ya Ya Matsuri(Quarrelling Festival),
at Owase Shrine in Owase, Mie Prefecture
The mame-maki ritual chases away evil and brings good luck (see photo).
Example of a demon mask that gets beans thrown at it during Setsubun. (Photo credit: JTB Photo)
  Ritual burning of daruma dolls,
at Nishiarai Daishi Temple in Adachi-ku, Tokyo
Risshun(beginning of spring)
6th to 13th (approximate)
Sapporo Yuki Matsuri(Sapporo Snow Festival) (See photo)
10th and 11th
Inukko Festival, in Yuzawa,
Akita Prefecture
National Foundation Day
Designated a national holiday in 1966. An old myth has it that the first Emperor of Japan, Jimmu Tenno, was enthroned on this date.
Valentine's Day(See photo)
15th and 16th
Yokote kamakura events, at Yokote,
Akita Prefecture

A kamakura is made by packing snow into a large mound, and then hollowing out the interior to make a cozy room inside. Sitting inside a kamakura is one of the joys of winter for local children—there, refreshments include roasted mochi rice cakes and ama-zake (a sweet beverage made from fermented rice).
16th to 18th
Tokamachi Yuki Matsuri(Tokamachi Snow Festival), in Tokamachi, Niigata Prefecture
18th (approximate)
Akiyoshidai Yama-yaki(ritual grass burning)
The Akiyoshidai Plateau in Yamaguchi Prefecture contains the largest collection of limestone caves in Japan. The dead grass and other plant material on the karst plateau above the caves are burned every year in late February, which actually promotes the coming growth.
Kabuki no Hi(Kabuki Day)
Kitano Baika-sai(Kitano Plum Blossom Festival), at Kitano Tenman-gu
Shrine, Kyoto
Mid-January to early March
School and university entrance examinations(See photoand description)


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