Japanese Family Activities


Holidays in Japan, like holidays in America, are times when families get together. Four of the biggest Japanese holidays are New Year's, Greenery Day, Children's Day and Obon. A family might choose to go to Tokyo Disneyland on one or more of these holidays or they might take a bullet train to one of Japan's many museums, gardens, temples or festivals. A third alternative is to participate in or observe a favorite sport. The last option is to celebrate the holiday by visiting extended family members, cooking and eating holiday foods, creating and then using children's toys, and playing games together.

Family Activities for the Japanese New Year

  • The Japanese New Year is celebrated Jan. 1 to 3. Popular family activities for this holiday include skiing at one of the 500 ski resorts in Japan, attending a Daruma doll fair, visiting or exchanging cards with distant relatives, having meals together and playing games of fukuwarai and karuta. Fukuwarai is similar to pin the tail on the donkey, except that blindfolded children pin facial features onto a face. Karuta is a game in which children compete to retrieve cards labeled by a "reader." Foods eaten at family meals include buckwheat noodles, mochi or rice cakes, and osechi ryori or bento boxes. At New Year's, these boxes can contain tiny fish eggs,black beans, dried sardines in a sweet sauce, kelp rolls filled with salmon, a sweet custard made with fish paste, mashed sweet potatoes with chestnuts, a red and white cake made from fish paste, pickled daikon and carrots, vegetables that include burdock root, shitake mushrooms and pea pods, and large pieces of shrimp and sea bream.

Activities for Greenery Day

  • Greenery Day is celebrated on May 4. Typical family activities for Greenery Day include gardening, cycling through parks with cherry blossoms and strolling through public gardens. Popular gardens include the Korakuen in Okayama, Kairakuen in Mito and Kenrokuen in Kanazawa.

Activities for Children's Day

  • Children's Day is celebrated May 5. Both Greenery Day and Children's Day are components of the Golden Week. On Children's Day, parents and children make carp kites and origami samurai helmets. The children then wear the helmets while flying the kites with their parents. Children's Day used to be called the Boy's Festival. The Girl's Festival is celebrated March 3, sometimes by going to the Kobayashi Doll Museum in Tokyo.

Family Activities for Obon

  • Obon is a Buddhist holiday that is celebrated for three days in mid-July or August. Japanese families often celebrate this holiday by going to one of Japan's Buddhist temples. Almost every municipality in Japan has at least one temple, and large cities such as Kyoto have more than 1,000. Temples with the highest user ratings are the Bodaiji Temple on Mount Osore in the Shimokita Peninsula; Kiyomizudera Temple, Kinkakuji Temple or Golden Pavilion, and Ginkakuji or Silver Pavilion -- all three of which are in Kyoto; and Todaiji Temple in Nara. Families also celebrate Obon by making or buying paper lanterns that they float on rivers, watching fireworks, and observing or participating in a bon odori, or folk-dancing, festival.

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