Traditions: Seasonal

花より団子 お花見シーズン

花より団子 お花見シーズン

Yes, it sounds the same, but no, it's not the J-drama (if you don't know what I'm talking about, check the "Administrator's note" ). 「花より団子」(はなよりだんご・hana yori dango・dango rather than flowers) is a Japanese saying that derived from a common spring time activity called お花見(おはなみ・ohanami) literally meaning "to look at flowers"・In a nutshell, お花見 is an outdoor picnic done under or near cherry blossom trees as a celebration and appreciation of spring.

花より団子 お花見シーズン Typical おはなみ, pretty full of people

History of the practice of お花見
お花見 is said to have started in the Nara period by high class nobles. During this period, people observed the 梅(うめ・ume・plum) tree, as it had just been introduced to Japan from China. In the Edo period, people started to appreciate the 桜(さくら・sakura・cherry blossom) and today, people will almost always associate 桜 with お花見. Also in the Edo period, お花見 slowly shifted became localized as people in the lower classes started to take part in them.

How to お花見
In Japan, where the four seasons in the year are more distinct and consistent than in the states, the 桜 blooms every year between March and April, which is when you see people going out for a お花見. All you have to do is to find yourself a 桜 tree, lay an optional plastic sheet on the ground to keep yourself from getting dirty and to make sure you have your territory distinguishable from the others, bring your friends and family and just have a fun picnic. People will often drink 酒(さけ・sake), called 花見酒(はなみざけ・hanamizake・sake at an ohanami) in this occasion.

Unlike a picnic though, お花見 is not something that can be done during the day. People will often enjoy a night out of 夜桜(よざくら・yozakura・literally "night cherry blossom" ) . At popular 夜桜 sites like the ueno park, lanterns are put out for the time that the 桜 are in bloom. Also, there are special tri-colored rice cakes appropriately named 花見団子(はなみだんご・hanamidango・ohanami rice cakes). The three colors, pink (for the "present" spring), white (for the "past" winter), and green (for the "future" summer). The saying 「花より団子」 comes from the observation people who would rather just eat the treats than enjoying the 桜, defeating the purpose of the お花見.

花より団子 お花見シーズン Cherry blossom 桜


Kanji Hiragana Romaji English
花見 おはなみ ohanami accents, dialects
さくら sakura cherry blossom
花見酒 はなみざけ hanamizake sake at an ohanami
夜桜 よざくら yozakura literally "night cherry blossom"

甲子園 Koushienn

甲子園 Koushienn

Maybe it's just me, but it seems like these past couple of months were all about the 2010 FIFA world cup. Many people around me were watching and keeping up on the scores of all of the games. The high interest in the national team games was also true in Japan. But since we are now moving onto 八月 (はちがつ・hachigatsu・August), the sports fans of Japan are changing focus to 高校野球 (こうこうやきゅう・koukou yakyuu・high school baseball). Every year, starting in early 八月, there is a national 高校野球 tournament. It is arguably the largest annual non-professional sports event in Japan.

甲子園 Koushienn The 甲子園 Stadium. The national championships are held here every year.

Quick Explanation
Starting in June or July, every 都道府県 (とどうふけん・todoufuken・prefecture) in Japan starts their inter-prefecture 高校野球 tournament. Although this process is only the preliminary round to determine who will go to the 全国大会 (ぜんこくたいかい・zenkoku taikai・national championship tournament), they are still televised locally and spur high interest. Generally, only one high school from each 都道府県 can have a slot in the 全国大会.

The 全国大会 is commonly referred to as the 夏の甲子園 (なつのこうしえん・natsu no koushienn・the summer koushien), because the tournament is held at the 甲子園 (こうしえん・koushienn) stadium in 甲子園 in Nishinomiya city of the Hyogo prefecture in Japan. Highschools that are known to have good baseball clubs (the ones that have sent many of their teams to the 夏の甲子園) are extremely hard to get into. Regardless, as a highschool baseball player, many students dream to play at the 甲子園 stadium.

甲子園 - More Popular than Pro?
During 夏の甲子園, there are games being played pretty much everyday. All of the teams up to this point, have not lost a single match. However, depending on what 都道府県 you come from, different schools would have played different numbers of games and schools that come from places like Osaka and Tokyo (with higher competition) tend to be better teams.

To be in 甲子園 is the dream of all high school baseball players in Japan. Thes attracts many viewers; in fact, it is not uncommon for people to choose to watch the 夏の甲子園 over regular professional baseball games.

After almost every game. it is common to see tears in the eyes of the 選手 (せんしゅ・senshu・players) of the losing team. The losing team also stuffs their bags and pockets with the sand from the 甲子園 field.

甲子園 Koushienn A typical sight in 甲子園


Kanji Hiragana Romaji English
高校野球 こうこうやきゅう koukou yakyuu high school baseball
全国大会 ぜんこくたいかい zenkoku taikai national championship tournament
夏の甲子園 なつのこうしえん natsu no koushienn the summer koushien

文化祭 Field Day

文化祭 Field Day

Spirit week, tolo, homecoming, and prom; high school in the US isn’t necessarily easy, but we're pretty lucky in terms of the amount of school wide events.

Japanese high schools pretty much have only one school wide イベント (いべんと・ibento・event) that the students work and look forward to during the year: 学園祭 (がくえんさい・gakuensai・campus festival/field day) aka 文化祭 (ぶんかさい・bunkasai・cultural day).

文化祭 Field Day Typical hallway scene during 文化祭

An Event Put On by the Students
学園祭 is and イベント that is organized, planned, and run by the students. Generally, each class is assigned a category (performance, display, etc) and a budget by the general 文化祭 student organization and within the given category, students come up with their program for the big day. For example, students may put on a play, do an outside dance performance, make a haunted house, or even have their own maid cafe in the classroom.

文化祭 is not only for the students that attend the school, but they often allow guests and the outside public to come in and join the event. Also, if you are a 中学生 (ちゅうがくせい・chuugakusei・middle schooler) considering applying to a particular high school, you may go to their 学園祭 to visit and see what the school is like.

The イベント is meant to give the students a chance to work in groups as a team and if done well, it can be a very rewarding experience. However, there are always cases where only a small portion of a class gets very into it, while the rest do not participate very much.

The 準備 Process
Although it depends on the school, 文化祭 are usually held between 九月-十一月 (くがつ-じゅういちがつ・kugatsu-jyuuichigatsu・September-November). Since the school year in Japan starts in 四月 (しがつ・April), the students theorhetically have about half a year to plan the 準備 (じゅんび・jyunbi・preparation/set-up) for 文化祭. In reality, however, people do not start the actual 準備 process until early summer. Students will volunteer time during summer vacation to come to school and do most of the building and labor-intensive work.

文化祭 in Anime
If you watch a lot of 学園 (がくえん・gakuen・campus/school-setting) animes and mangas, you may already have some exposure to 学園祭. It is a very popular theme, though they seem to glorify the イベント and brush over the very difficult 準備 process.

文化祭 Field Day Students setting up for their program.


Kanji Hiragana Romaji English
学園祭 がくえんさい gakuensai campus festival/ field day
文化祭 ぶんかさい bunkasai cultural day
イベント いべんと ibento event
準備 じゅんび jyunbi preparation/set-up

梅雨 Get your umbrellas out!

梅雨 Get your umbrellas out!

Japan generally has very clear 季節 (きせつ・kisetsu・seasons). Beautiful 秋 (あき・aki・fall) leaves, freezing cold 冬 (ふゆ・fuyu・winter)... around June, at the end of 春 (はる・haru・spring) and the beginning of a very hot 夏 (なつ・natsu・summer), comes almost always a rainy 梅雨 (つゆ・tsuyu・rainy season) that typically lasts for several weeks.

Being a very humid place to begin with, this time of the year can be very dreary. Most Japanese families to not have dryers in their house and after washing their laundry in the washing machine, hang their clothes up to dry. It can normally take some time to dry as is, but this can especially be a problem during 梅雨. The end of 梅雨 also leads directly into summer and the summer vacation, so many kids look forward to the end of 梅雨.

梅雨 Get your umbrellas out! てるてる坊主

てるてる坊主 (てるてるぼうず・teru teru bouzu) is a little doll made of white cloth, or more commonly, tissue paper. The custom apparently came from China, but these dolls are said to bring sunny weather when hung upright by a window. The word てる=照る (teru) which means "to shine", referring to the sun shining, and 坊主 (ぼうず・bozu・young boy/monk).

How to make:

  • Take some tissues and crumple into a ball
  • Lay this ball in the middle of a new sheet
  • Bring in the corners of the flat sheet, wrap the ball
  • Use a rubber band to define the "neck"
  • Attach a string through the head

Hang by a window with its head up. Kids make this to wish for the rain to stop, not just in the 梅雨. Some make it in the 冬 and hang it upside down to wish for snow.

Pass Time
With all of the rain outside, it's understandable that one can get hesitant of going outside. Why not become a hermit or a couch potato, just for this 季節, and spend some time watching Japanese dramas? A great one for 梅雨 is "いま,会いにゆきます" (Ima, ai ni yukimasu). If you dislike sad or touching stories, this is not for you. However, this drama’s setting is during 梅雨. The actual on-air time period was also during 梅雨, which was timely. They also have a movie and book version, if you would prefer those.

梅雨 Get your umbrellas out! Typical scene during 梅雨


Kanji Hiragana Romaji English
季節 きせつ kisetsu season
梅雨 つゆ tsuyu rainy season
はる haru spring
なつ natsu summer
あき aki fall
ふゆ fuyu winter
てるてる坊主 てるてるぼうず teru teru bouzu  

夏祭 Summer Festival

夏祭 Summer Festival

August (and the later half of July) is the time for spirits and ancestors in Japan. There is usually a week long break in August for お盆(おぼん・obon・aka "Bon Festival"), a Japanese/Buddhist custom to honor the ancestors. During this time many families will go to their family graves for an annual cleaning, but besides that it is a time for people to relax. There are also many お祭り(おまつり・matsuri・(summer)festival) at this time.

祭り are held in almost every city in Japan, most commonly during the summer. Although they may not be like the large and famous ones like the Gion Festival, many organizations and schools host local, small-scale 祭り.

夏祭 Summer Festival Typical 盆踊り scene

When you find an お祭り
When you go to a 祭り, most commonly in the smaller, local ones, you will see a tower with a 太鼓(たいこ・taiko・Japanese drum) and a drummer on top. ちょうちん(chouchin・lanterns) are also hung around it. There will be music playing and a group of people dancing in a circle around the tower. This dance is called 盆踊り(ぼんおどり・bon odori・the Bon dance).

How does the 盆踊り work?
Although dependent on the region and the formality of the occassion, in general the drummers and some of the dancers will be from the organization hosting the event and will sometimes be wearing the same 浴衣(ゆかた・yukata・summer kimono) as eachother. They are the ones to start the music and dance. However, others are welcome to join in whenever, whether you are wearing a 浴衣 or just in your t-shirt and jeans.

So just jump right in and copy the movements of the people around you. There is no set dance to a 盆踊り, but the movements are almost always very simple and repetitive.

If you're in Japan during the summer...
More likely than not, there will be お祭り around your area! Go to one of the big and famous お祭り to enjoy the energetic atmosphere, and look for smaller communal ones to for a more laid back experience. Investing in a 浴衣 or similar apparel may be worthwhile to enhance your experience. Don't go to the high end department stores, go to more local stores where 浴衣 can be purchased for less than 25USD for the whole set.

Men's 浴衣 tend to be a bit more pricey, so you may want to purchase a 甚平(じんべい・jinbei) instead, which is, simply put, a shirt and shorts version of a yukata; MUCH easier to wear than a yukata! If you are not too concerned about it being the highest quality, they are only about 15USD, assuming you don't get ripped off!

夏祭 Summer Festival A 太鼓 drummer on the 盆踊り center tower


Kanji Hiragana Romaji English
お盆 おぼん obon aka “Bon Festival
盆踊り ぼんおどり bon odori the Bon dance
お祭り おまつり matsuri festival
浴衣 ゆかた yukata summer kimono
甚平 じんべい jinbei simple yukata

Sport Festival うんどうかい

Sport Festival うんどうかい

October is the month for Sports. 運動会 (うんどうかい・udoukai・sports festival), a biannual competitive sports event in japanese schools (mostly elementary and junior high), with the main of the two events commonly held in the fall. It is typically an all-day event and students are split into two groups, 紅組 (あかぐみ・akagumi・red team) and 白組 (しろぐみ・shirogumi・white team), that complete against each other in various games.

Unlike American "field days", most schools invite families to come watch their students compete. This ends up being a huge event with many families setting up picnic sheets and baskets around the perimeter of the dirt field, frantically trying to videotape their child when they are up.

Sport Festival うんどうかい 紅組 - typical scene of 玉入れ and 大玉ころがし

10/10 Sports Day
In Japan, October 10th is a national holiday called "体育の日" (たいいくのひ・taiiku no hi・sports day). When this holiday became official, 10/10 was chosen because historically, this day was the most sunny day in the fall season. Appropriately, many 運動会 are held on this day.

What happens at 運動会
Many games are played, enough for everyone to get a chance to do something, but not everyone can play in all of the games. Some of the games can be done all together but for the ones with limited space, students sign up beforehand.

Though there are variations among schools, here are some typical games associated with 運動会.

  • 綱引き (つなひき・tsunahiki・tug-a-war): self-explanatory, but this plain old game can get very heated and exciting when you have whole classes going against each other.
  • リレー (りれー・rire-・relay race): go to any 運動会, and you will see リレー. Though this is probably the more boring of the games.
  • 玉入れ (たまいれ・tamaire・literally "ball in"): The photo on left is a game where each team gets a bunch of bean bag balls that they must put into a basket that is raised up on a long pole.
  • 大玉転がし (おおたまころがし・ootama korogashi・literally "big ball roll"): Second photo on left, as you can probably tell by the name, is a race of who can get to the finish line quickest while rolling a large ball.

At the beginning of 運動会, all of the students get in rows and do the ラジオ体操(らじおたいそう・rajio taisou・"radio exercise"). It is a very common warm-up exercise in Japan. Look for a video of it on the Internet, you will find the same audio recording and movements. Ask any Japanese person to do the ラジオ体操 and play this audio for them, more likely than not, they will know exactly how the movement goes.

Sport Festival うんどうかい ラジオ体操


Kanji Hiragana Romaji English
運動会 うんどうかい undoukai sports festival
綱引き つなひき tsunahiki tug-a-war
リレー りれー rire- relay race
ラジオ体操 らじおたいそう rajio taisou "radio exercise"

夏服 Summer Wear

夏服 Summer Wear

Shorts, flip-flops, and swimsuits - sure looks like it's summer in the Northern Hemisphere! Here in the hot, sunny, summer-festival filled Japan, there's another must-have summer wardrobe item: a 浴衣 (ゆかた・yukata)! You'll probably recognize what a 浴衣 looks like if you've gone to a Japanese summer festival (or saw it on anime/manga). It's commonly mistaken for the 着物 (きもの・kimono); in fact, they do look indeed somewhat similar, with the flow-y base and tight 帯 (おび・obi・belt), but they're actually quite different.

夏服 Summer Wear 浴衣

浴衣 vs. 着物
The biggest difference is the fabric. 浴衣 are very informal and made to be worn casually in the summer; hence, its fabric tends to be cotton or another breathable material. Typically, you don't wear another layer underneath because you don't want to suffocate in the summer heat.

着物, on the other hand, is not as accommodating. They're made out of expensive material such as silk, which look nice, but are heavy and thick. Not only that, there are also multiple layers to a 着物, making it a nightmare to wear on a hot day.

The time it takes to wear the two are also very different. As a 着物 newbie, I would start getting dressed at least an hour before heading out (and I'll still need help with it afterwards). With a 浴衣, I can be out the door in approximately 20 minutes.

Granted, this could also be because I have a lot more experience wearing a 浴衣; not only are is it common to wear 浴衣 to summer festivals (or sometimes just to hang out around Kyoto - more on that in the admin's note), but they're also affordable. That is, while some 浴衣 can cost around $150, but there are also many in the $20 to $50 range that look and feel great. Just stay away from department stores! If you walk around small shops in Kyoto during the summer you're bound to run into a 浴衣 clearance. If you're in the states, check out online stores, not just auction sites, but Japanese clothes brands. I remember Uniqlo's cheapest 浴衣 set cost about $30, which includes the 浴衣, 下駄 (げた・geta・traditional sandals), and a matching bag.

A cheaper alternative is the 甚平 (じんべい・jinbei). It's a two-piece, shirt-and-shorts version of a 浴衣 available for both genders. They're easier to find and tend to fall into a cheaper price range ($10 to $50).

甚平 are particularly popular among men; I probably see as many (if not more) men in 甚平 as those wearing 浴衣 at summer festivals. It is much easier to wear than 浴衣 because if you can tie two bows and wear a t-shirt and shorts, you're good to go. Other than summer festivals, 甚平 are very good pajamas and room-wears.

夏服 Summer Wear 甚平


Kanji Hiragana Romaji English
浴衣 ゆかた yukata Summer kimono
着物 きもの kimono kimono
甚平 じんべい jinbei jinbei

Autumn of… ○○の秋

Autumn of… ○○の秋

秋 (あき・aki・fall) is just beginning. Orange leaves, pumpkins, cool breeze... what comes to your mind when you think about 秋?

In Japanese there are a few keywords that people associate with 秋. They are expressed in this way: "OO の秋" (OO のあき・OO no aki・ OO autumn / autumn of OO). It's a time of year that's considered to be one of the most pleasant in Japan, since it's right when the blazing hot summer passes and before the freezing cold winter arrives. So it's a season great for anything.

Autumn of… ○○の秋 OO の秋

For example, 食欲の秋 (しょくよくのあき・shokuyoku no aki・autumn of appetite). 秋, being the harvest season, is a time associated with good food: sweet potatoes, baked chestnuts, and of course, the mouth-watering limited edition sweets found in Japanese cafes all across Japan…

If you find yourself binging your 秋 away and stacking on some extra weight, you can just tell your Japanese friends that it's "食欲の秋".

On the flip side, there's スポーツ (すぽーつ・supo-tsu・sports) の秋. This is the time when Japanese schools have their annual sports festival.

In Japan, school sports are not based on seasons; rather, students typically choose and stick to one sport for an entire year (or even their whole middle and/or high school career).

秋 is right after summer vacation and is a good time to motivate students to get into sports. So all those pounds you gain from 食欲の秋 can be counteracted by being active.

秋 is also the season for 文化 (ぶんか・bunka・culture). 秋 is a good time to visit Japan. Many of Japan's cultural jewels shine during this beautiful time of year. For example, Autumn is said to be the best time to visit shrines in Kyoto, with the leaves changing color and the climate being pleasant.

There are still several other "OO の秋" sayings, but the last one that I will list here is 読書 (どくしょ・dokusho・reading). While sports may be good to get into after summer vacation, you can't forget about studying!

It's hard to explain where these sayings all come from, and since there are so many, it seems like 秋 is the season for everything. I guess 秋 should be that way, along with all of the other seasons? Well, it kind of is just that. Just don't forget about these various activities during all of the other seasons as well!

Autumn of… ○○の秋 Many bookstores have handwritten recommendation labels like this


Kanji Hiragana Romaji English
あき aki fall
食欲 しょくよく shokuyoku appetite
スポーツ すぽーつ supo-tsu sports
読書 ぶんか bunka culture
読書 どくしょ dokusho reading

風物詩 January

風物詩 January

You know that feeling when you see something that reminds you of a certain season? Like umbrellas in the spring and jack-o-lanterns in the fall? There's a word for that association in Japanese - 風物詩 (ふうぶつし・fuubutsushi).

This month, we'll go over some Japanese New Year's 風物詩.

風物詩 January 2013 is the year of the snake

お年玉 (おとしだま・otoshidama) is money that comes in a small decorated envelope commonly given to children on New Year's. It's a Japanese tradition for older members of the family to gift money to younger members. It's not a exclusive 風物詩 just for Japan. Many Asian countries share this practice. It's common children in Japan to look forward to お年玉. I say children, but it's common for people to receive お年玉 as adults. You can receive お年玉 from your parents or grandparents while giving them to your younger nieces and nephews too.

初詣 (はつもうで・hatsumoude) is the first shrine or temple visit in the New Year. Usually people do it within the first week of January, while their work and school is on break. It's common for many people to wear kimonos to 初詣. During the visit, many will also purchase horoscope/oracle pieces of paper that they draw from a box called おみくじ (omikuji). It's like a forecast for the coming year.

We've talked about the elaborated New Year's meal おせち料理 (おせちりょうり・osechi ryouri) before, so we'll skip over that. Instead, another January 風物詩 is おもち (おもち・omochi・aka "mochI" or rice cake). It's not necessarily a January food, but there are many imageries with おもちassociated with the New Year. For example, people put out 鏡餅 (かがみもち・kagamimochi・literally "mirror rice cake") as new year's decoration. It's a way of offering おもち to the gods in Japanese tradition.

In terms of eating おもち, you can bake it and eat it with soy sauce or seaweed, but another easy dish is お雑煮 (おぞうに・ozouni). It's a simple dish of baked おもち in soup (ie. Miso soup). It's like a household winter comfort food - it's much more filling than a regular bowl of miso soup and gives a new taste to an otherwise bland piece of おもち.

風物詩 January 鏡餅 and お雑煮


Kanji Hiragana Romaji English
風物詩 ふうぶつし fuubutsushi  
お年玉 おとしだま otoshidama  
初詣 はつもうで hatsumoude  
おもち おもち omochi aka "mochI" or rice cake

お正月 sayings

お正月 sayings

明けましておめでとうございます (あけましておめでとうございます・akemashite omedetou gozaimasu・Happy New Year)。

Perhaps you're spending these first few days of the New Year with friends and family, digesting all the food and sluggishly recovering from holiday-mode. While it may be difficult to pull yourself together to think about what may happen later in 2014, as the Japanese would say, 一年の計は元旦にあり (いちねんのけいはがんたんにあり・ichinen no kei wa gantan ni ari). Literally, "the year's sum is at New Year's day". It means that one should plan for the upcoming year on 元旦 (がんたん・gantan・ New Year's day). It's a reminder to people that it's always best to plan ahead.

Like this, there are many Japanese 格言 (かくげん・kakugen・saying/words of wisdom) that is related to お正月 (おしょうがつ・oshougatsu・ New Year's). Let's kick off the year by learning a few more.

Similarly, 門松の一夜飾りはいけない (かどまつのいちやかざりはいけない・kadomatsu no ichiya kazari wa ikenai・literally, "it is bad to display a kadomatsu for one night"). 門松 (かどまつ・kadomatsu) is a type of お正月 decoration that is meant to welcome good spirits to the home. The 格言 says it is bad to display a 門松 for just one day because by only having it out for one day implies that the family prepared it last-minute. Such procrastination is seen rude to the spirits. Hence, the message calls for people to always be prepared.

お正月 sayings 門松 usually comes in pairs and is left by the entrance of a home.

In Japan, お正月 is traditionally a holiday spent with family at home. 笑う門には福来る (わらうかどにはふくきたる・ warau kado ni wa fuku kitaru・ a laughter around the corner will bring good luck). This is an encouragement for families that get along and have fun together, a family with laughter will bring in good luck.

Do you remember what you dreamt on the night of 元旦? The first dream of the year is said to carry a special meaning in Japan. It's like a horoscope in that this first dream is said to predict whether the rest of the year will be good or bad. 一富士二鷹三茄子 (いちふじにたかさんなすび・ichi fuji ni taka san natsubi) is a 格言 that lists the top three things that are particularly good things to have in one's first dream. First, 富士 (ふじ・fuji・Mt. Fuji), which sounds similar to a Japanese words for "immortal". Second, 鷹 (たか・taka・falcon), sounding similar to "high" (both in height or social class). Third, 茄子 (なすび・nasubi・eggplant), a plant that bears many seeds, which is paralleled to having many healthy children.

お正月 sayings 2014 is the year of the Horse.


Kanji Hiragana Romaji English
格言 かくげん kakugen saying/words of wisdom
元旦 がんたん gantan New Year's day
お正月 おしょうがつ oshougatsu New Year's



The holidays are over and it’s still the middle of winter. And unless you’re in the southern hemisphere, the tropics, or just a place that doesn’t get too cold, it’s a winter wonderland out there. It’s during this time that the city of Sapporo prepares for their big 祭り (まつり・matsuri・ festival). No yukatas, no fireworks, this is a 雪祭り (ゆきまつり・yukimatsuri・ Snow festival). The Sapporo 雪祭りis one of the biggest winter events in Japan and it draws millions from around the world.

雪祭り The massive snow sculpture is one of the most popular displays at the Sapporo 雪祭り

What’s there to see?
The Sapporo 雪祭りis most known for the 雪氷像 (せっぴょうぞう・seppyouzou・ snow and ice sculptures / literally “snow”, “ice”, “sculpture”). Every year, hundreds of people gather to unleash their creativity and build the best, most intricate 雪氷像and compete against each other. In 2014, there are 198 sculptures on display. Anybody from around the world can send an application to make a 雪氷像, but there are usually too many applicants and a drawing will be held. The event organizers will also have professionals come in to create a massive 雪氷像. This becomes the landmark of the year’s 雪祭り. The week-long 祭りis open to the public for free. The organization will sometimes host concerts and other shows that require the purchase of an entrance ticket. Type of お正月.

雪祭り On top of 雪像, there are also many elaborate 氷像 (ひょうぞう・hyouzou・ice sculptures)

The Spporo 雪祭り started in 1950, when a group of high school students made six 雪像 (せつぞう・setsuzou・ snow sculptures) . They organized an event displaying the 雪像, including games like 雪合戦 (ゆきがっせん・yuki gassen・ snowball fight). It drew more than 50,000 people and it became a yearly tradition that grew massively. In 1955, the Japanese self-defense force joined in to create the first large-scale 雪像. And by 1959, more than 2,500 people were out making 雪氷像. Over the years it became grander and gathered international attention, making it the 雪祭りit is today.

Other 雪祭り
This is a little add-on Japanese lesson. The words雪 (ゆき・yuki・ snow) and氷(こおり・koori・ice) were used often in this article but there were different ways to pronouncing them. That’s because there are both Chinese and Japanese ways of reading kanji. If you want to say snow or ice as the subject in Japanese, use “yuki” and “koori”.

雪祭り 越路雪祭り (Koshiji Snow Festival) in Koshiji, Nagaoka, Niigata


Kanji Hiragana Romaji English
雪祭り ゆきまつり yukimatsuri Snow festival
雪氷像 せっぴょうぞう seppyouzou snow & ice sculptures
雪合戦 ゆきがっせん yuki gassen snowball fight
雪だるま ゆきだるま yukidaruma snowman

母の日 Mother’s Day

母の日 Mother’s Day

Don't forget - 母の日(ははのひ・hahanohi・Mother's Day) is on the 12th of May!

If you plan on celebrating 母の日 how do you plan to do it? How did you celebrate it as a child? This month, we'll be comparing some of the generic or stereotypical ways 母の日 is celebrated in the US and Japan.

母の日 Mother’s Day

Breakfast in Bed
One of the first things that pop into my head when I think 母の日 in the US is breakfast in bed. Generally speaking, you don't eat in bed in Japan unless you're sick. Many Japanese people have probably seen scenes of breakfast in bed on American TV shows and whatnot, but it's a foreign practice that's unlikely to ever become popular.

If you ask a Japanese person to name a 花 (はな・hana・flower) that's symbolic of 母の日, the vast majority of people will say carnation. Now, this may be true to a certain degree in the US, but I see many more people giving roses, lilies and tulips here than I would in Japan. As a side note, chrysanthemums are a taboo to give people in Japan because it's a common funeral flower.

お手伝い券 and odd Japanese chore
I'm sure at one point in Elementary school, you had an assignment to make お手伝い券 (おてつだいけん・otetsudai ken・chore tickets) - the little booklet with lines for your to write chores on and decorate to give as gifts to your parents. Well, that's a common practice in Japan.But there's one really common ticket that kids make, it's called the 肩たたき券 (かたたたきけん・katatataki ken・shoulder massage ticket). This ticket is a common ticket given on both 母の日and 父の日 (ちちのひ・chichinohi・Father's Day). 肩たたき (shoulder massage) is a common practice among children in Japan. Not just for your parents, but to your grandparents as well. It's almost like a chore.

There's not going to be a separate newsletter on 父の日 so we might as well mention it now. The only difference is that you will be treating your Father as opposed to your Mother!

母の日 Mother’s Day 肩たたき券 is a common gift Japanese children give on Mother's Day and Father's Day


Kanji Hiragana Romaji English
母の日 ははのひ hahanohi Mother's Day
父の日 ちちのひ chichinohi Father's Day
はな hana flower
お手伝い おてつだい otetsudai help or chore