In Japan the festival “season” begins early in the year (February) and ends late in the year (December). Is there one every month you might ask. The answer is no, but almost. All citizens look forward to the gaily decorated floats that carry the drummers and flautists through the town.

A great many of the smaller, local festivals celebrate and pay honor to the local deity. The parade and festival atmosphere ranges from subdued to rambunctious. Here is a sampling of some of the celebrations and when they take place:

• Sapporo Snow Festival – Place: Sapporo, Hokkaido. Time: Early February

• Takayama Matsuri – Place: Takayama, Gifu. Time: April 14-15; October 9-10

• Nebuta Matsuri – Place: Aomori City, Aomori Prefecture. Time: August 2-7

• Awa Odori – Place: Tokushima City, Tokushima Prefecture. Time: August 12-15

• Chichibu Yomatsuri – Place: Chichibu City, Saitama Prefecture. Time: December 2-3

Each festival is known for popular activities. For example, there is a snow and ice sculpting contest at the Sapporo Snow Festival. The Chichibu Yomatsuri is known as the “night festival.” Other parades feature floats with huge Chinese style dragons and pirate ships. Each festival is fun and exciting in its own way.

Other festivals taking place in Japan include; Hamauri. When the rest of Japan celebrates Hina Matsuri, the doll festival for little girls; Okinawa holds a cleansing festival for all the women of the island.

Hamauri is a ritual observed mostly in Okinawa Japan where women go to the beach early in the morning to cleanse themselves of bad omens and purify themselves spiritually. Held in early March, the young girls and women head for the beach early in the morning and wait for the high tide.

When the tide comes, the salty sea water must touch their foreheads three times. This ceremony is called the Ubinari and it purifies the ladies as the receding sea water takes away their bad tidings and misfortunes leaving them with the blessings of good health and good luck.

The ladies then stroll along the white sandy beach, another ritual which purifies them. Later in the day they are joined by their families and together they look for shells, octopus, crabs and the other creatures which the tide has brought along with it.

A good catch obviously means a good year. On the lighter side, it is a day for some fun and food with rice cakes being the special dish for the occasions.

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