Annual Observances

(Spell checked)


January 1st: A huge number of people flock to temples kadomatsuand shrines, some beautifully dressed in kimono, for the first worship of the year. According to the National Police Agency, nearly 88 million people in Japan or two-thirds of the total population visit temples or shrines during the first three days of every new year. At the top of the list is always Meiji Shrine in Tokyo erected in 1920 to the memory of Emperor Meiji (1852-1912), and it draws roughly 3 million. Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine attracts a little less than 2 million visitors during the first three days, usually ranking fifth or sixth of the top-ten list. Trains run all-night on New Year's Eve for those visitors. In Kamakura, cars are not allowed to go inside the city during those three days. For walkers, it may be a good chance to visit other shrines and temples that are not much crowded.

For your reference, the following is the top-ten list by temple and shrine for the year of 2009 released by the Japan Police Agency.

(Number in millions, with their official websites)

Rank Temple or Shrine Location Religion Sect Visitors
1 Meiji Jingu Tokyo Shinto - 3.19
2 (Naritasan) Shinshoji Narita, Chiba Buddhism Shingon 2.98
3 Kawasaki Daishi(Heikenji) Kawasaki, Kanagawa Buddhism Shingon 2.96
4 Fushimi Inari Fushimi, Kyoto Shinto - 2.77
5 Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Kamakura, Kanagawa Shinto - 2.51
6 Sensoji Asakusa, Tokyo Buddhism Independent 2.39
7 Atsuta Jingu Nagoya, Aichi Shinto - 2.35
8 Sumiyoshi Jinja Osaka Shinto - 2.35
9 O-miya Hikawa Jinja Saitama Shinto - 2.05
10 Dazaifu Tenmanngu Fukuoka Shinto - 2.04
(Note: The Police Agency has stopped counting them from 2010.)

January 4th: Chona Hajime Ritual at Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine.
Chona means an adz and hajime 'first use of the year'. In commemoration of the ritual Yoritomo Minamoto, the founder of the Kamakura Shogunate, performed at the inauguration of this shrine, the ceremony takes place on this day at 1:00 p.m. .

January 5th: Joma Shinji at Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine. Joma translates as 'keep evil spirits away' and shinji 'Shinto ritual'. Archers shoot arrows, at a target 27 meters away, on which the letter oni, or devil, is marked. By hitting the target, they wish the devil be exorcised.

January 10th: Ebisu {eh-bee-soo} Festival at Hongakuji
Ebisu, a member of Shichifukujin, or the Seven Deities of Good Fortune, is the Deity of Commerce. Traditionally, January 10 is the day for Ebisu. The Ebisu Festival can be observed at all the shrines sacred to the Ebisu deity. Most famous in Japan are that of Imamiya Ebisu in Osaka, and Nishinomiya Ebisu in Hyogo Prefecture

January 13th: Gomataki Kuyo, or Holy Fire Rite for Invocation, at Kokuzo-do located near Joju-in.
Goma is Homa in Sanskrit, a holy fire for invocation.

Second Monday of January: Coming-of-Age day (national holiday)
Many kimono-clad young ladies can be seen all over Japan. They are joining the ceremony sponsored by local governments and held at city halls, as they reached the age of 20, or adulthood. Kimono worn by them have long sleeves, a privilege given to young unmarried ladies. Used to be a solemn formality, but things have changed. Nowadays, the ceremonies are often disrupted with catcalls and scuffles by male group of drunken participants. Some are even arrested by the police.

January 15th: Sagicho Ritual at Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine
Gicho is a stick used by ancient people for hockey-like game and sa means three. Today, Sagicho denotes a sort of fire festival. People bring the New Year decorations and talismans, made of pines, sacred straw festoon etc. to the Shrine, and the Shrine burn them with sacred fire after purification rituals. In awe of the divine wrath, religious people never throw away those sacred objects . A Sagicho Ritual at Toyama Prefecture.

January 16th: Enma (Yama)'s Fete at En'noji
This is the first fete-day for Yama. By praying to Enma, the ruling judge in the netherworld, worshipers believe the Enma give divine favors to the wandering souls. A Enma statue on display at Kyoto National Museum.

January 22nd: Taishiko Festival at Hokaiji Temple
Festival for carpenters, scaffolding men and those who are engaged in construction jobs. Taishi is a crown prince and in this particular case, Prince Shotoku (574-622), who greatly contributed to the development of Buddhism in Japan, and founded a number of temples including world-famous Horyuji in Nara.

January 25th: Fude Kuyo at Egara Tenjin Shrine
A memorial service in honor of used writing tools such as brush-pen, pencil, etc. Fude means a writing brush and Kuyo a memorial service. All Tenjin shrines are dedicated to the memory of Sugawara Michizane (845-903), a court noble and scholar. After his death, he was divinized as the deity of learning. Known also as an excellent calligrapher, Egara Tenjin holds this Fude Kuyo in his commemoration.


In general, February is a good season to visit Kamakura for those who hate the crowd. Weather is also nice, though it is chilly.

February 3rd: Setsubun Festival at Tsurugaoka Hachimangu and mamemakiother shrines and temples
On the last day of calendar winter, which is called Setsubun, this festival takes place at popular shrines and temples, celebrating the end of winter and the beginning of warm spring. Scattering beans, usually roasted soybeans, is part of the ceremony. Thereby, people try to ward off devils and wish to bring in good fortune. Beans are thrown shouting "Out with the devil. In with fortune." At Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine, TV personalities and other notables whose birth year coincides with the Chinese zodiac of the year (Refer to Eto of Kamakura terminology) are invited to throw beans. In front of 15,000-strong visitors, 600-kilogram beans are thrown every year. Kenchoji also has it at Hansobo. Setsubun is unique in that it is honored both by Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples.

February 8th: Hari kuyo at Egara Tenjin
Hari is literally a needle, and Hari Kuyo is a memorial service in honor of used needles just like the Fude Kuyo. Nowadays, young women do not use needles, nor do they know how to sew. Until a couple of decades ago, however, needles had been one of the most important tools women had to use. Sewing is required of all women to master before marriage. The memorial service for needles was thus started years ago, and it is still honored in various shrines and by those who are engaged in needlework.

The first Horse Day of February: Hatsu-uma, or the First Horse Day Festival, at Sasuke Inari Jinja and Maruyama Inari Jinja at Tsurugaoka Hachimangu.
(It was only in 1872 that Japan adopted the standard Gregorian calendar, and therefore, many traditional events are still observed on the day based on lunar calendar.)

February 11th: National Foundation Day (national holiday)
Before World War II, it used to be the Empire Day, or anniversary of the Emperor Jinmu's Accession. Legend has it that the legendary and the first emperor Jinmu acceded to the throne on February 11, 660, B.C. Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine holds a ceremony for the Imperial Family.

February 11th: Daikoku Toe {toe-eh} at Choshoji
On the final day of 100-day austere discipline, priests take a wash-down with cold water. For details, refer to Choshoji.

February 15th: Nehan-e
The Lord Buddha is believed to have passed away on this day, and memorial services called Nehan-e are carried out in many temples. A picture of Nehan on view at Horyuji in Nara and at MMA.


March 21st: Memorial Service for Pet Animals at Kosokuji (at Hase)
Pet-lovers join the service to console the souls of the departed pet animals.

March 23rd: Vernal Equinox Day (national holiday)
A day to pay respect to, and pray for the repose of, the deceased family members and their ancestors. Religious people visit their graves and join the mass held at the temples.


cherryFrom late March to early April is the cherry blossom season and the whole nation seems caught up in fever. Kamakura is not an exception and hordes of people will be visiting here. Genjiyama park is a choice spot to hold a flower-viewing party. On weekends, however, the area will be packed with so many viewers that there may be almost no space to sit on. Dankazura (walkpath) of Wakamiya Oji main street is also lined with cherry blossoms. The cherry's botanical name is Prunus Yedoenis Matsum, same strain as those planted along the Potomac River, Washington, D.C., which were sent as a gift to American First Lady Helen Taft by the Mayor of Tokyo back in 1912. The American government reciprocated with dogwood, which are now one of the most favored street trees in Japan. (The year 2012 marked the 100th anniversary of the gift. When Japanese Prime Minister Noda visited The White House and met with President Obama in late April 2012, The White House again reciprocated Japan with 3,000 dogwood trees to be planted in a Tokyo park.)

April 4th: Tokimune Festival at Engakuji
Tokimune Hojo (1251-1284), the founder of Engakuji and the Eighth Hojo Regent, died on April 4, 1284 at age 33. On his anniversary day, a tea party is held every year at Butsunichi-an at Engakuji to cherish his memory. In 2001, NHK (a Japanese public service broadcasting organization. Japanese counterpart of BBC in the UK) featured the saga of Tokimune in its 45-minute special drama every Sunday night.

April 8th: The Buddha's Birthday Festival
In Japan, the Lord Buddha's birthday is believed to be April 8 and its festival and religious services called Gotan-e is held on this day in many temples. Traditionally, hydrangea tea is served to the visitors. At Gokurakuji, the statue of Shaka Nyorai, which are usually closed to the public, will be on view on April 7, 8 and 9, and the Ninsho Tower on April 8.

April 13th: Memorial Service for Yoritomo Minamoto at his cenotaph located behind Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine.

From second Sunday through third Sunday: Kamakura Festival
Festive activities can be observed all over the city during the week such as parades, open-air tea ceremony. The festivals are sponsored by Kamakura City Tourist Association to attract as many tourists as possible at this best season of the year. It started in 1959 and more than 800,000 tourists visit here at this time of year. Among the tourist attractions are:

For the year 2011, however, the Association cancelled the festival in consideration of the hardship of victims in eastern Japan hit by mega-quake and tsunami on Mach 11. Throughout Japan, all were in a mood to refrain from hosting celebratory rituals.

(Several temples whose Buddha statues are not on public display used to be exhibited for occasional visitors during the festival days until 1997. Not any longer, probably because those visitors, mostly tourists, did not behave themselves in the face of the statues. Some temples clearly warn that the statues are not artifacts, not the object of appreciation, but the sacred object of worship, and therefore, sightseers should revere the statues in respectful manner. In an extreme case, a temple in Kamakura posts a sign at the main hall, which reads "Do not clap your hands". Seems to be many visitors who don't even tell Buddhist temples from Shinto shrines.)

April 29th: Day of Showa (national holiday)
Birthday of Emperor Showa, otherwise known as Emperor Hirohito(1901-1989). After his death, the date remained a national holiday as 'Greenery Day'. In May 2000, the Lower House passed a bill to rename it 'the Day of Showa' to remember the turbulent Showa Era (1926-1989), during which Emperor Showa was on the throne. However, with Prime Minister Mori's comment that Japan is a divine country with the emperor at its core triggered outrage, and the bill was not brought up to the Upper House. Japan has a peculiar practice of numbering years serially from the year in which reigning emperor ascended the throne. Current era is Heisei {hay-say} and the year 2010 is Heisei Year of 22. All official documents, a driver's license for example, have to honor this practice, not Christian years, when referring to dates. Showa is translated by the Economist as Enlightened Peace and Heisei as Achievement of Universal Peace.


May 3rd: Constitution Memorial Day (national holiday)

May 4th: Extra national holiday

May 5th: Children's Day (national holiday and used to be Boy's Day before the War): You will see colorful carp streamers billow koinoboriin the wind. People fly them over rooftops to celebrate Children's day in the hope that they would be as strong as carp ascending waterfalls.

May 5th: Iris Festival at Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine
Iris, which is believed to clear away miasma, is dedicated to the alter, and court-dance and court-music are played.

May 5th: Kiyomasa Festival at Myohoji
Kiyomasa Kato (1562-1611) is known as one of the most brave samurai as well as an adherent of Nichiren sect Buddhism. His statue is enshrined in this temple.

May 5th: Kusajishi {koo-sah-gee-she} Festival at Kamakuragu Shrine
Archers with ancient headgear and clad in ancient garbs shoot arrows at the target made to imitate deer in the grass, reciting old, literary language. This event originates in Yoritomo Minamoto's huntng party held near Mt. Fuji eight centuries ago. A woodblock print of the Yoritomo's party at MFA. Kusajishi festival at Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo.

During the week from April 29 to May 5, there are four national holidays. The Japanese call it the 'Golden Week'. Favored with comfortable weather, pleasure resorts across the country are inundated with visitors. Traffic jam is just awful.

Second weekend of May: Display of Shariden, Engakuji
Shariden of Engakuji, the oldest building in Kamakura and a National Treasure, is usually off-limits to sightseers. However, at this time of the year, the temple opens it to the public with an additional charge of 300-yen. They are not allowed to go inside the structure though.

May 28th: Annual Festival at Shirahata Jinja, Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine
Shirahata Jinja is a sub-shrine located in the compounds of Tsurugaoka Hachimangu and dedicated to the spirits of Yoritomo Minamoto and his second son Sanetomo (the Third Shogun)


June 3rd: Annual Festival at Kuzuharagaoka Shrine
On this day of 1332, Toshimoto Hino (?-1332), a loyalist for Emperor Godaigo, was executed as a result of the unsuccessful coup attempt. A memorial service is held in homage to his dedication and loyalty toward the Imperial Court.

June 30th: Purification Ceremony at Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine
The rite of atonement for the sinful acts and purification for the past six months will be observed.

Late June: Kamakura beaches open for swimmers.
rainBeaches in Kamakura are a popular resort for the young, and even in winter you will see surfers off the coast. In summer, hordes of bathers crowd on the beach and on the road along the beach, the notorious motorbikes are running around the clock. Unlike some parts of American seashore, all beaches are open to the public in Japan except for the areas protected under the fishermen's right. From the opening days, makeshift locker-room will be set up for the swimmers or sun-bathers. Shortly before the opening day, the Health Authorities of the Prefectural Government announce every year whether or not sea water is clean enough for swimmers. They group beaches by criteria of ranging from 'Very Good', 'Good', 'Suitable', 'Not suitable'. Never before has there been a beach which was categorized as 'Not suitable' to the best of my recollection. The authorities judge water quality with the number of colon bacillus and Chemical Oxygen Demand count in the sampled water. Appearance of the sea water does not matter if it is muddy or dirty. In 2001, the Environment Ministry of Japan made a list of '88 Suitable Beaches in Japan', in which the beaches in Kamakura were naturally included. I have once heard the Far East Radio Network telling the American Forces and their families that they should not swim around here simply because they are dirty. Kamakura has two beaches, one Yuigahama and the other Zaimokuza divided by the mouth of the Nameri river. Quality of the river water is far from clean, as it runs through the center of densely populated city. Probably, there may be a story similar to Peter Benchley's Jaws behind the judgment. On summer weekends, beaches are awfully crowded with beachcombers and swimmers. We Japanese phrase it 'like potato washing' or like a bunch of potato colliding and bobbing about in a sink full of water. Many bikini-clad girls sprawl on the sand enjoying sunbathing, hoping to get suntans as beautiful as the golden beach bunnies in Hollywood movies.


Second weekend of July: Annual Festival at Yagumo Shrine
Portable shrines will parade on the streets of Zaimokuza district.

July 15th: Segaki or the hungry-ghost-feeding rite at Kenchoji
Gaki is a famished devil or Preta in Skt. , one of the Six Stage in the netherworld. Simply put, this is a requiem mass for the repose of the departed souls, and all Buddhist temples except for Jodo Shin sect hold this mass. In case of Kenchoji, it holds twice, the regular one and Kajiwara Segaki, which originates from a legend relating to Kagetoki Kajiwara (?-1200), a faithful retainer of Yoritomo Minamoto, the founder of the Kamakura Shogunate. At one time in the Kamakura Period, the moment the mass was over, a ghostly samurai on horseback arrived at Kenchoji. Knowing his arrival too late, he seemed so sad that the chief priest held an extra mass for him. Later, he disclosed that he was the ghost of Kajiwara. Since then Kenchoji holds an extra mass called Kajiwara Segaki, The rite is held mostly by chanting sutra.

Third Sunday of July: Ishigami Festival at Goryo Shrine. Refer to Goryo Jinja.

July 20: The Marine Day (national holiday)
hanabiOn July 20, 1876, Emperor Meiji came back to Yokohama aboard the Meiji Maru, the state-of-the-art steamship back at the time, from the tour to Hokkaido. The date marked the Japan's start-up as a maritime nation, and officially became a national holiday in 1996. In America, it should be the Space Day since three astronauts landed on the moon for the first time in history on July 20, 1969.

July 23rd and 24th: Jizo Festival at Hokaiji
The Jizo Bosatsu statue is Hokaiji's main object of worship.

July 23: School term ends around this day and the summer vacation continues until the end of August. Resort hotels are crowded during the season.

July 24th: Convention for Priest Niccho at Hongakuji
Priest Niccho (1422-1500) was the second chief priest of Hongakuji and known as a great adherent of Nichiren sect Buddhism.


August 7th - 9th: Paper-Lantern (Bonbori) Festival at Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine
Roughly 400 paper-lanterns with hand-drawn pictures and poems are displayed in the shrine's precincts day and night. Passing through the large ring made of grass rope (called chinowa) is believed to give visitors good health.

August 9th: Sanetomo Festival
In honor of the Third Shogun's artistic achievements, this festival takes place at Shirahata sub-shrine of Tsurugaoka Hachimangu on his birthday.

August 10th: 46,000-day-visit at Sugimoto-dera, Hase-dera, An-yo-in etc.
Worshiping on this particular day is said to be as efficacious as visiting 46,000 times.

August 10th: Black Jizo Festival at Kakuonji

August 13-15th: Bon (Ullabon in Skt.) Festival, or the Buddhist All Souls' Day
bonodoriThe Bon festival is to console the souls of the departed, and also function as the day for the family unions. Though not national holidays, small businesses close their office and employees go back to their hometown. Employees of large companies take days off, like Easter days in the West, and go to their birthplace, where all family members gather and hold mass requiem for the ancestors. For the laity, the Bon is also a festival, and people enjoy folk dances held in school grounds or parks or even temple grounds. Engakuji, to name one, provides Kamakura residents with its temple courtyard for the dance. Many join it wearing Yukata, an informal kimono made of cotton and worn in summer. Exodus of urban residents heading off for their hometown starts immediately before August 12. Outbound trains are packed and bumper-to-bumper traffic is expected on expressway. After August 16, Tokyo-bound trains and expressways are terribly crowded.

(In Kyoto, Daimonji (officially called Gozan-no-okuribi) festival takes place on the evening of August 16 every year, when giant bonfires are lit on mountains surrounding the city. In 2011, people of Rikuzen-takata city, Iwate Prefecture, where was severely damaged by the March 11earthquake and tsunami killing more than 1,000 people and wiping off 70,000 pines beautifully planted along the shorelines, asked the organizer of Daimonji festival to use those damaged logs as firewood. It seemed the best for them to use the logs for R.I.P. in Kyoto. However, the Daimonji organizer rejected the request in fear that the logs might be contaminated with radioactive materials as Rikuzen-takata is located 200 km. north of Fukushima No.1 Nuclear Power Plant, which broke down shortly after the tsunami attack. The organizer said dirty ashes might fall on Lake Biwa, the water source for Kyoto citizens. This rejection brought about intense arguments against and for the organizer's decision. The pros and cons are batted back and forth. Inspection showed that the logs were slightly contaminated. The Mayor of Kyoto was too nervous to go ahead with the plan and he sided with the organizer, though some nuclear experts including a professor emeritus at Kyoto University and authority on radiobiology said that health risk in this case was negligibly small. Hearing the news, Shinshoji in Chiba Prefecture near the Narita International Airport proposed to burn the logs on the alter for invocation (Homa in Sanskrit). The temple said there would be no problem to burn them if the they are debarked. This hysteric attitude toward radioactivity can be observed even in foreign countries. A case in point is Harvard's Fogg Museum. Japanese museums of Kanagawa, Nagoya, Okayama and Fukushima had planned before the quake to exhibit works of Ben Shahn (1898-1969), an American artist, from December 2011 through July 2012. But the owner, Fogg, declined after the quake to carry them to Fukushima city. The Museum of Fukushima, well known as a collector of works of Ben Shahn, had to cancel the planned exhibition.)

August 20th: Annual Festival at Kamakuragu Shrine


September 12th: Memorial Service for Botamochi at Jo-eiji
Botamochi is a rice-cake dumpling covered with bean paste. Legend says it was given to Priest Nichiren, the founder of the Nichiren Sect, on his way being brought to the nearby execution ground called Tatsunokuchi in 1271. Nun Nichiei, an ardent follower of Priest Nichiren, appeared in front of him and presented the rice-cake. Nobody doubted that he would be executed within hours. However, a miracle occurred at the last moment and Priest Nichiren was saved. To commemorate this miracle, the temple hold memorial service for Priest Nichiren, and treats visitors with botamochi. For further details, refer to Joeiji and Ryukoji.

September 14th, 15th and 16th: Annual Festival at Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine
Mikoshi or portable shrine will be carried and Yabusame horseback archery will be performed before spectators. On the Ritual Dance Stage inside the precincts, Japanese dance will be played. On 15th in particular, Shinko Festival takes place with a trio of portable shrines and procession of divine horses.

Third Monday of September: Respect-for-the-Aged Day (national holiday)

September 18th: Menkake, or Masked Parade at Goryo Jinja shrine
A group of ten (8 men and 2 women) wearing grotesque or comical masks will leave the shrine usually at 2:30 p.m. and parade through the nearby streets accompanied by portable shrine and festive music. See Goryo Jinja.

September 19th and 20th: Annual Festival at Kamakuragu Shrine
Open-air stalls sell various goods at the shrine grounds and street near the Shrine.

full moonSeptember 23 or 24: Autumnal Equinox Day (national holiday)

September 28th: Memorial Service for Chasen {chah-sen} Kuyo at Kenchoji
Chasen is a bamboo whisk, or tea-stirrer, for making ceremonial tea. Kuyo is a memorial service. Enthusiasts of tea ceremony get together here and hold mass for Chasen. I asked the temple why the service is held on this particular day. The temple replied they did not know.


October 3rd: Memorial Service for the founding priest at Engakuji
The founding priest is Mugaku-Sogen. His wooden statue will be brought in the Main Hall. Priests belonging to the Engakuji group get together here and hold memorial service for the great Zen master. For further details, refer to Engakuji.

First Sunday of October: Memorial Service for Dolls at Hongakuji
Refer to Hongakuji.

Second weekend of October: Takigi {tah-key-ghe} Noh Play at Kamakuragu Shrine hosted by Kamakura Tourist Association.
Open-air Noh play is performed starting at 5:30 p.m. and ending 8:00 p.m. All lights will be extinguished before the play to make the area dark and firewood will be burned to create an elegant atmosphere. Takigi is literally 'firewood burning'. Okina is the regular number played and sung at the very beginning every year. Some 3,000 spectators join the event on this night. If you want to join, you have to make request to the Association in advance with reply-paid postcard to the Association. See Kamakuragu Shrine.
Takigi Noh play at Rinnoji, Nikko, Tochigi Prefecture.

Second Monday of October: Health-Sports Day (national holiday)
The Tokyo Summer Olympic Games were held for two weeks starting October 10, 1964.

October 12th to 15th: Ojuya Chanting at Komyoji
For three days and three night, priests at Komyoji sit in front of the statue of Amida (Amitabha in Skt.) in the main hall and continue to recite sutras. Initially, it used to be a service practiced by Jodo sect Buddhist, and they chant sutra for ten days and ten nights continuously from October 6 to 15 on lunar calendar. Ju denotes 'ten' and ya 'night'. See Komyoji.

October 28th: Bunboku {boon-bok} Festival at Shirahata Shrine, Tsurugaoka Hachimangu
In commemoration of Sanetomo Minamoto (1192-1219), the Third Shogun, and his literary talent, a party is held. Bunboku means being engaged in literary work.


November 3rd: Culture Day (national holiday).
kikuUsed to be a national holiday to celebrate the birthday of Emperor Meiji (1868-1912). Now changed to Culture Day.

Early November: Treasure-display at Kenchoji and Engakuji
Treasures owned by the temples, which otherwise are not open to the public will be displayed during a few days, normally three days including Culture Day. It is called 'Homotsu Kazeire' (literally, airing of the treasure to free from insects). A rare chance to take a closer look at those treasures. Admission: 500-yen each.

November 8th through 10th: Autumn Display of Shariden at Engakuji
Shariden will be open to the public for an extra fee of 300-yen. However, visitors are not allowed to go inside the structure.

November 15th: Shichigosan {she-chee-go-san} at various shrines
Shichi-go-san (seven-five-three) is a festival for boys and girls aged 3, boys aged 5, and girls aged 7. They visit shrines to pray to the Shinto deity for good health. On November 15, particularly on weekends near November 15, a number of children and their parents wearing fancy clothes will be observed in the precinct of shrines. Originally, girls reaching 3 years old were thought to start wearing obi sash instead of simple string. Boys wore Hakama, a Japanese formal kimono, when they reached 5 years old. To celebrate those important turning points of their life, they visited shrines and prayed for happy life thereafter.

November 23rd: Labor Thanksgiving Day (national holiday)
Before World War II, it was called 'Niiname-sai', or Harvest Festival for the Imperial Family, celebrating with the grain-offering ritual. The emperor dedicated the year's rice and sake to Amaterasu-Ohmikami, the Goddess of the Sun. Even today, the ritual is observed in the Imperial Family with the emperor offering newly harvested rice to the Shinto deities. The practice is followed by major shrines including Tsurugaoka Hachimangu. As you may have noticed, many Japanese holidays are associated with the Imperial Family and its rituals.


December 8: Jododo-e
The Lord Buddha is believed to have attained enlightenment, or Nirvana, on this day. Religious services called Jodo-e are performed in many temples. It is a coincidence that the Japanese Navy attacked Pearl Harbor on this day in 1941 Japan time (December 7, American time).

December 16th: Gochinza Festival at Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine
Gochinza stands for the 'start-up of the Shrine' and the Shrine was established at the present site on this day of 1191. The ritual begins after sunset at 5:30 p.m. Firewood are lighted at the Shrine's grounds and a foursome shrine-maidens begin a ritual dance followed by priests' dance wearing white robes.

December 18th: A year-end Fair at Hase-dera
On the approach to the Temples stand many open-air stalls and sell such items as we usually buy in preparation for the New Year.

December 23rd: Emperor's Birthday (national holiday)

December 31st: The Watch-Night Bell at temples throughout Japan start ringing at midnight to signal the end of the old year and the beginning of the new. The bells will be rung 108 times as the year changes. Ringing the bell is believed to erase all our sins, and rarefy our earthly desires and evil passions, which are said to count 108. Some temples (Engakuji, Kaizoji, Komyoji, Jokomyoji, Jochiji, Zuisenji, Sugimoto-dera, Tokeiji, Hasedera, Hokaiji, Hongakuji, Manpukuji, Myohoji, etc) allow visitors to ring the bell on first-come, first-served basis, but only one ring per person.

tubakiAlthough Shinto shrines do not carry bells, they too perform year-end rites, and purification rituals starts at 12 midnight. Worshipers rush to shrines to offer the first-of-the-year prayer immediately after the clock hit 12 o'clock midnight.

Come year-end, the Japanese exodus begins again just like in Bon Festival, and metropolitan Tokyo becomes like a ghost town as its residents rush to their hometowns.

Notes: In case a national holiday falls on Sunday, it is carried over to the following Monday. School children had to go to school on the second and fourth Saturday every month until March 2001, but the Education Board implemented a 5-day-a-week program beginning April 2002. Since the Japanese have no custom to go to temples or shrines on weekends like Westerners going to church or synagogue or mosque, tourist spots like Kamakura are more crowded with kids on Saturday.

(Updated: May 2012)