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

January February March April May June July August September October November December
Yuzu manju
Grated yuzu citron peel is added to wheat flour and yamato yam, and then the mixture is steamed. This is then wrapped around bean jam to make a bun shaped like a citron fruit. The yuzu citron fragrance rising gently from the bun matches the pleasurable mood of winter.
Christmas Eve
In Japan, Christmas Eve (December 24) is a time for romance, a day for young couples to reaffirm their love for each other. It is also a time for children to get presents. So as you can see, for most people in Japan, Christmas has little religious significance. Starting at the beginning of the month, huge Christmas trees and light displays decorate streets, and you will hear a lot of recorded Christmas songs. (Photo credit: Tokyo Date-Navi.com—http://www.date-navi.com/)

Performances of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony
"Ode to Joy," the fourth movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, matches the hopes and mood of the season. Symphony performances are given in many cities each year in December. Just before the end of World War II, students who had to cut short their studies at a music university to go to war held farewell parties, where they sang the Ode. When the war ended, those who survived returned to Japan and got together for a reunion. There they sang the Ode again, in memory of their fallen comrades. This, apparently, is how the custom started. (Photo credit: Soka Municipal Government)

Susu-harai (thorough cleaning)
Many homes do a thorough house cleaning around the end of the last month of the year. According to old tradition, the house is cleaned of a year's accumulation of dust, dirt and grime that had collected in hard-to-reach places. This got the home clean for the New Year festivities and kept bad luck away. The cleaning began around the 13th day of the last month.
Photo: On the 14th, monks climb up on the statue of Buddha and give it a thorough cleaning, at Nikkosan Rinno-ji Temple in Nikko, Tochigi Prefecture. (Photo credit: The Mainichi Newspapers Co.)

O-misoka (New Year's Eve)
New Year's Eve is called o-misoka, or joya. At the stroke of midnight, kane bells at temples throughout the country ring out 108 times. This custom is called joya no kane. Why 108 times? To eliminate from listeners' hearts the 108 human failings, which include desire, possessiveness, anger and envy. The photo, taken at Chion-in Temple in Kyoto, shows the priest throwing his whole body back to propel the massive striker even harder against the bell. Before midnight, as tradition goes, families gather to eat toshi-koshi soba (buckwheat noodles representing the wish for a long life). Then it is time to celebrate the coming of the new year, and listen to the temple bells. (Photo credit: JTB photo)
Eiga no Hi (Cinema Day)
Hari kuyo
Old or broken needles are stuck in tofu and mochi rice cakes, then taken to a temple or shrine. The needles, now useless through so much use, are offered up in a religious ritual, in the hope that the users will become even better at sewing.
Throughout the month
Bonen-kai (year-end parties)
One of the most enjoyable occasions for many—a time when alcohol flows freely, everyone takes boiled food from a shared pot (see photo below), and co-workers acknowledge each other's value as work colleagues. Friends also get together for similar parties.
Photo credit:JTB photo
 Performances of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony (See photo and description)
13th to the end of the month
Susu-harai(thorough cleaning) (See photo and description)
Akogishi-sai Festival, at Ako, Hyogo Prefecture
17th to 19th
Hago-ita Market, at Senso-ji Temple, Taito-ku, Tokyo
Hago-ita are decorated paddles for a traditional game. Fairs selling them are held throughout the country around the middle of the month. The annual market at Senso-ji Temple in Tokyo is especially famous, and enthusiasts come from all over the country to buy gorgeous, top-quality varieties.
21st (approximate)
Toji (winter solstice)
According to tradition, the year's shortest day and longest night should be celebrated by soaking in a yuzu (citron) hot bath, and eating squash.
Emperor's Birthday, national holiday
Christmas Eve (See photo and description)
O-misoka(New Year's Eve)
(See photo and description)
  Kohaku Uta Gassen
Japan's best-known singers and other invited guests get together for this TV extravaganza of song. The women's team (Aka-gumi, "The Reds") compete against the men's team (Shiro-gumi,"The Whites"). More than half of the country used to watch the program every New Year's Eve, although ratings have declined slightly over the last few years.


   Life and Culture in Japan — A Month by Month Guide
   Observing the Changing Seasons: One of Life's Simple Pleasures
   January    February    March    April    May    June
   July    August    September    October    November    December
   Climate and More: Facts and Figures