For the safety of our staff and volunteers, we will not offer in-person school visits for the remainder of 2020. Please contact us about setting up a virtual Japan in the Schools visit or activity, and take advantage of these resources that children and adults can access from home.
The ancient name for November is shimotsuki (霜月)which means the month of frost. It is the start of winter, and the leaves will reach their peak colors.
November 23 - Niinamesai ( 新嘗祭) to “Labor Thanksgiving Day”
This is the most important Shinto ritual in the Emperor's court. The new crop of rice from various parts of Japan is gathered in the Imperial Palace. Along with the new crop the Emperor himself grew and harvested in the Palace, the new crops will be offered to the deities, ancestors, and spirits in thanks for the bounty of the last year and pray for a bounty of grains next year.
The Emperor himself will conduct this ceremony, which involves sitting for hours in an unheated room. Read more at Japan-Forward.com.
Niinamesai is also celebrated at many shrines. People used to wait to eat the new crop of rice until Niinamesai was over, but it’s not so common anymore.
After 1948, November 23 became a national holiday called “Labor Thanksgiving Day.” The holiday celebrates human and worker rights and people express gratitude to one another for work done throughout the year.
November 15 - Shichi Go San (七五三)
Shichi Go San means 7, 5, 3 is a traditional rite of passage and festival day.The girls who turn 3 and 7 and boys turn 5 celebrate their growth and well-being.
They get dressed up and visit neighborhood shrines for the blessings and thank the god for their health and happiness. Even though the date is technically the 15th, families usually visit shrines on weekends in November.They get chitose ame, rice candy in pink and white, to wish for a long healthy life.
November 2-4 - Karatsu Kunchi 唐津供日
Kunchi means festivals in Kyushu. Karatsu Kunchi is one of the three largest Kunchi festivals in Japan. It is designated as UNESCO Intangible cultural heritage.
This is a festival for Karatsu Shrine. There are 14 enormous festival floats, each belonging to a different neighborhood in the city.
The floats were made from the Edo period (1819) through the Meiji period (1876) in the shape of creatures such as Shishi lions, helmets, sea breams and so on. The floats are made by layering hundreds of sheets of washi paper, shaped with a mixture of wood powder, hemp, and lacquer on a frame. Then they painted them with lacquer, decorating them with colored lacquer and gold leaf. They are the world's largest lacquered art pieces.
The floats weigh two to three tons, and each of them is adorned in fine detail with intricate decorations. By looking at them up close, you’ll see their charm like you’ve never seen it before. They are the pride of each neighborhood.
Starting on the evening of the 2nd, 200-300 adults and children pull each float around the city.
The ancient name for October is kaminazuki (神無月)which means the month with no god. The mythology says all the gods in Japan gather to meet at Izumo Ōyashiro Shrine in Shimane prefecture. There will be no gods elsewhere except for one god who stays behind to protect people. In Izumo, they called it kamiarizuki (神在月) which means the month with gods. There are many celebrations held at Izumo shrine during kamiarizuki.
October in Japan usually is the best time of the year. The trees start to change colors, the weather is often perfect, and it is the harvest time. Rice is the main crop in Japan. The first harvest of rice will be offered to the gods. Food is best in October: matsutake mushrooms, chestnuts, apples, Asian pears, persimmons, sweet potatoes, Pacific saury fish are must haves for autumn.
Lots of fun activities like grape picking and sweet potato digging are very popular.
There are harvest festivals at many shrines.
Otsukimi, Moon Viewing
Jidai Matsuri Festival in Kyoto (Festival of Ages)
Jidai Matsuri is one of three renowned festivals in Kyoto. It is held in Kyoto on October 22nd. It was started in 1895 to celebrate the 1,100th year anniversary of Emperor Kammu establishing the imperial palace in Kyoto and making it the capital of Japan.
According to Japan Travel, “The participants of the parade are dressed in accurate costumes from almost every period of Japanese history, as well as famous historical figures. There are about 2,000 participants and it takes two hours to watch the entire procession pass by.” Unfortunately, this year’s festival was cancelled because of the pandemic.
Taiiku no Hi, Health and Sports Day
Usually the second Monday in October, the date was changed for this year only to July 24, the day of the opening ceremony of the Olympics which was unfortunately postponed. They also changed the name to Sports Day. It is a day for everyone to enjoy sports and outdoor activities.
This holiday was started in 1966 on October 10, to commemorate the day of the opening ceremony of 1964 Tokyo Olympics.
Various sporting events are usually held all over Japan.
Halloween in Japan
Halloween started to be known in Japan in the 1990s. The biggest difference from the U.S. is they do not do trick-or-treating. Halloween in Japan is like a huge adult cosplay party. Thousands of people gather in costumes in Shibuya on Halloween night. It is becoming more problematic lately. Some schools have trick-or-treating on a small scale as a part of English class and cultural learning.
There is a Halloween Parade in Tokyo Disney Sea. You also can also buy special Halloween cakes and candies, but they are very different from those in the US.
Try making origami Halloween decorations. Both diagrams are from OrigamiClub.com.
In September, the days get shorter and the nights gets longer. The ancient name “Nagatsuki” came from Nagayotsuki which means the month of long nights.
Choyo no Sekku, September 9th
This is one of five sekku celebrations. Sekku are seasonal ceremonies which were traditionally held in the Imperial Court. They are January 7(Nanakusa), March 3(Jomi, Girl’s Day), May 5(Tango, Boy’s Day), July 7(Tanabata), and September 9(Choyo). It was believed the “yang” power gets too strong on days the odd (yang) numbers is the same on the month and the date. It is considered inauspicious, so to counter the danger, sekku events were celebrated. Nine is the strongest yang number in yin-yang concept. Choyo no sekku is the double ninth, so it is the most powerful. Chrysanthemum was used as an herb for longevity. To avert bad luck and ward off evil spirits, chrysanthemum flowers were soaked in water or sake and drunk for health and longevity. They used wads of silk to catch the flowers’ dew and the wad was used to wipe the body or face to keep them young. Because of that tradition, it is also called Chrysanthemum Sekku.
Keirou no hi (Respect for the Aged Day)
This is a fairly new national holiday designated in 1966 to honor the elderly. It was celebrated on September 15 until 2003. It is changed to the third Monday of September to make a long weekend. People spend the day with grandparents, give gifts, etc.
Otsukimi, Moon Viewing
“Chushu no Meigetsu” The beautiful moon in mid autumn. The autumn harvest moon is celebrated on 15th night of 8th month of the lunar calendar. It is called Jugoya (15th night). On the solar calendar, it changes every year and usually falls in mid-September to early October. This year, it will be on October 1st.
People enjoy the beauty of the moon and wish for a good harvest and healthy life by putting offerings like dango (round mochi-like rice cake), chestnuts, taro, and sweet potatoes. Pampass grass was believed to ward off evil spirits and protect the harvest. It also looks like mature rice plants, which are not quite ready at the time of Jugoya, so they put pampass grass in place of rice.
Rabbit in the moon
What do you see in the moon? In Japan, we say a rabbit is pounding mochi in the moon. See the pattern of the dark area? Do you see a rabbit? In different countries, people see different things in the moon, a lady reading a book, a lion, a crab etc.
August is the hottest month of summer in Japan, but in the old calendar, which is about a month ahead of the Gregorian calendar adopted in the Meiji era, it was already autumn. The old name for August is Hazuki. “Ha” means leaves. It meant the month when the leaves change colors and fall off the trees.
Obon is the Japanese Buddhist Festival to celebrate the spirits of one’s ancestors. Their spirits come home on August 13th and go back on the 15th. Some parts of Japan, like Tokyo, follow the new calendar and celebrate it in July, but most of Japan celebrates it in August.
Cucumber horses and eggplant oxen are the traditional decorations. It is said that the spirits ride the horses to come home and go back on the eggplant oxen. To welcome spirits and see them off safely, ogara, stems of the hemp plant, are burnt in an earthenware plate at the front door steps. Offerings are set up on the altar for spirits.
Obon is also a time for family reunions. This is the busiest travel time in Japan. People travel to visit their hometowns to see family and visit ancestors’ graves. Villages and towns often have festivals during Obon. Bon Odori dances and hanabi taikai (fireworks displays) are the most popular. It is a fun time for adults and children, and the whole family can enjoy festival games and food stands. Unfortunately, the festivals are mostly canceled because of COVID 19, so this year most people will stay home during the Obon holidays.
Yukata is a cotton casual kimono for summer. People wear them at the festivals, especially at Bon Odori. Everyone can join and dance. Dancers often wear yukata with the same pattern, like uniforms, for Bon Odori. Jimbei are casual kimono-style tops and pants that are also worn at festivals and in the summer.
Japan enjoys a lot of seasonal food. Here are a couple of summer favorites.
You can also enjoy it at home with these fun machines.
Kakigori（かき氷): Japanese style shaved ice
Shaved ice is a favorite summertime sweet. The ice is shaved very finely and flavored with all kinds of syrup, anko(sweet azuki bean paste), and other toppings.
You can buy a kakigori maker and make it at home too. It is a lot of fun.
Origami: Paper crane
This is probably the most known origami model in the world. The crane is an auspicious bird in Japan. The legend says it lives for a thousand years. It is a symbol of longevity. This traditional origami model has been folded for hundreds of years. There are many origami paper crane tutorials online. This is an easy one to follow. It is challenging, but worth a try.
In 1945, the USA dropped two atomic bombs on two cities in Japan which killed 129,000-226,000 people, mostly civilians. These are the only uses of nuclear weapons in armed conflicts. The bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6 and Nagasaki on August 9. This year is the 75th year since the bombs were dropped.
The story of “One Thousand Cranes” became famous to the world by the book called, “Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes” by Eleanor Coerr. The book is based on the true story of a girl called Sadako Sasaki.
Sadako Sasaki was two years old when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. She developed leukemia when she was 11 years old. She started to fold one thousand cranes wishing for better health, but she died at age 12. After her death, Sasaki's friends and schoolmates collected donations from all over Japan to build a memorial to her and all of the children who had died from the effects of the atomic bomb.
In 1958, a statue of Sasaki holding a golden crane was unveiled in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. Strings of a thousand cranes were sent from all over the world, surrounding the monument. The story of Sadako has come to symbolize the hope that no child will ever again be killed by an atomic bomb. At the bottom of this statue, there is a plaque that reads "This is our cry. This is our prayer. Peace in the world."
To wish for eternal peace and the abolition of nuclear weapons, people fold one thousand cranes and send them to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They are displayed at the peace memorials in both cities.
July in Japan is the beginning of summer. After the rainy season, it gets hot. Japanese school does not startsummer vacation until July 22, Marine Day, which is the day the beaches open. The old name of the month is fuzuki or fumizuki, which means the month of literacy.
Tanabata 七夕 Star Festival
The seventh day of the seventh month is the Tanabata festival, also called the star festival. Tanabata is the biggest festival in July.
The festival originated in China, where women wished that their weaving and sewing skills would improve with needles with five color strings.
In Japan, it was combined with the original Japanese custom, and became an official court event in the Heian Period. By the Edo period, ordinary people started celebrating the festival by putting bamboo trees on the roof with paper decorations.
Nowadays, people write a wish on long pieces of paper and hang them on to the bamboo branches along with other paper decorations. Some cities like Sendai are famous for celebrating this festival with elaborate decorations.
The story of the two stars is a love story. Orihime, a weaver (Vega) who is a daughter of the emperor of the sky, and Hikoboshi, a cow herder (Altair), were in love and got married, but they were so happy together, they forgot about their work. The emperor became enraged and separated them on each side of the milky way. They were only allowed to meet once in a year on the seventh night of the seventh month. Watch the Tanabata story video.
How to make Tanabata decorations:
Cut origami or construction colored paper in a rectangle big enough to write your wish. Punch a hole on top and use string to tie them on bamboo branches.
Summer Vacation(夏休み, natsu yasumi)
The Japanese school year starts in April and ends in March. The summer vacation is usually from July 21 until August 31. Because it is in the middle of the school year, children get homework and projects they have to work on during the vacation.
Here is an easy project often given to elementary school students. Grow a plant from a seed, like a sunflower or morning glory, and keep a plant journal to see how the plant grows every day.
Things you need:
Put soil in your container, plant a seed, water and watch it grow. If you want to try something different, cut a cherry tomato in half and plant it.
Enjoy Your Summer!
June in Japan is a wet month. The rainy season, tsuyu, lasts for about a month. The ancient name for the month is minazuki. There are various explanations of the kanji, which means the month without water, but main interpretation is the month of water. Strange, isn’t it?
Teru-teru Bozu (Shine monk doll)
Children make teru-teru bozu dolls in hope that next day will be sunny. It looks just like a Halloween ghost doll. Wrap a paper ball with square paper or cloth and tie around the neck with a piece of string or ribbon. Hang it from the eaves. Listen to the teru-teru bozu song.
Taue 田植え (Rice Planting)
Between April and June, Japanese farmers transplant young seedlings of rice to the rice paddies. Rice is more than just a main crop in Japan. It is a very important part of Japanese culture. There are many rice planting festivals.
Nowadays, planting is mainly done by machinery, but some small farmers still plant seedlings by hand. The Emperor plants his own rice field in the Imperial palace grounds. He does everything from germination to harvesting by hand. The rice he harvests is used for Imperial ceremonies. To teach the importance of rice farming, some schools teach students how to plant rice by hand.
Chatsumi (Tea Picking)
This is the month the new crops of tea were picked. There is a special day to start picking new tea leaves. It is called hachiya (88th night from the first day of the spring). It is usually on May 2nd or 3rd. The new tea crop is called shincha. It has very delicate flavor and is cherished by people.
Tango no sekku - Children’s Day
Traditionally, this important holiday for children was a boy’s day. Families with sons fly koi nobori (carp flags), and decorate the house with kabuto (warrior’s helmet), and boy dolls to celebrate boys' health and happiness. People used to put sweet flag and mugwort leaves on the roof to deter evil spirits. We eat special sweets called kashiwa mochi, azuki bean paste stuffed in mochi and wrapped with oak leaves, which symbolizes the prosperity of one’s descendants and the growth of children. Now May 5 is a national Holiday called Kodomo no Hi, Children’s Day, but the decoration of koi nobori stil continues.
You can make a wearable kabuto (warrior’s helmet) from a sheet of newspaper. You can make your own koi nobori too. There is also a koi nobori song.
Japan in the Schools
The Japan in the Schools (JIS) program, started in 1997, is a unique program that brings Japanese education into classrooms in Western PA. A wide variety of topics are covered in visits to local schools. Some topics include Japan today, Japanese history, language, culture, and origami. Download the curriculum flyer[PDF] for more information.
Volunteers of the JIS program respond to outreach requests from elementary, middle, and secondary schools, libraries,and other community partners. Authentic Japanese materials are used as teaching aids. This unique experience broadens a student's view of the world and the cultures in it.
Request a visit!
Requesting a school visit is easy! Fill out this simple request form and Katsuko Shellhammer will coordinate the details of the visit.
Volunteer for the JIS!
Volunteers are the most essential part of the JIS. Without the help of dedicated and passionate volunteers, this program would not exist. All ages and nationalities are welcomed. The only requirement is a passion for Japan. Sign up today!