Category Archives: Spring Festivals

Setsubun: catching beans for good luck at Kitain Temple | KAWAGOE

February 3rd is Setsubun in Japan, which marks the end of winter. People celebrate annually with traditional ceremonies in both homes and temples. A common tradition associated with this ancient festival is mamemaki or bean throwing. A lot of families carry out this fun tradition at home, but you can also visit a temple to do it with a crowd. Today, we did both.

When you carry out setsubun at home, the aim is to chase the ONI (ogres) away. It sounds like a metaphor for exorcism, but it is just a ritual to rid the house of evil and allow luck in for the coming year.  The oni represent evil and bad luck. We shout “Demons out, luck in” as we throw beans at an ogre, which is often the head of the household dressed up in traditional garb!  Most preschools and children community centers also mark the day with some fun crafts and activities.  I’ve previously written about our experiences of chasing the demon away while celebrating Setsubun at home.

When celebrated at a temple,  temple staff and honoured guests throw beans into the crowds from a dais.  It is not unusual for the temples to also throw things other than beans. In some places they throw fortunes or amulets or money or a combination of these. Tokyo has some temples that are famous for sumo wrestlers and / or celebrities throwing money to the excited crowds. Most temples conduct rituals before the bean throwing ceremony.  Some temples also have a performance by Oni, Japanese ogres or demons. The oni in Japan usually have one or two horns and wear animal print shorts. They are most often depicted as being red, but the most famous setsubun festival in Kazo, Saitama has 3 oni; one red, one blue and one black. There are many temples that conduct setsubun and mamemaki ceremonies throughout Saitama. We went to one of the biggest; Kitain Temple in Kawagoe. This year was the kids first to participate in a ceremony of this type. They were dubious at first, but they quickly joined in on the commotion and were thrilled with their haul. They recounted the affair to their grandparents with great animation and excitement.

The video shows the dais. You can hear the emcee chanting. The last thing he says is "Fuku ha uchi" which invites luck and signifies the start of the bean throwing. I turned off the camera so I would have a chance to catch some of the goodies. :-)

One of the reasons I didn’t bring them to such a ceremony up until now was because I was worried that the crowds would be intimidating, even dangerous. However, I found today that people were quite careful of children for the most part, plus they made periodical announcements to watch out for small children.  We were able to secure a nice little spot right by the dais with a responsible crowd around us, during the bean throwing.  However, just before the ceremony ended the throwers accumulated on our end of the dais with huge boxes of goods (not beans) to throw, so there was a sudden surge in the crowd. That was a little frightening for my 2 year old, but she was okay in my arms. It was actually a wonderful feeling when there were dozens of little packets falling from the sky and enveloping us in a feeling of richness! However, the scramble to pick up the fallen packets was both surprising and amusing. The kind Ojiichan (older man) beside us suddenly became an oni himself as he whipped a packet from under my hand. Another stood on a packet so that my six year old couldn’t pick it up! The generous Obaachan (older woman) beside us who had passed us packets of beans was slipping unseen numbers of packets into her pockets and handbag. Despite those incidents we got a good hoard and the kindness of the Ojiichan and Obaachan returned as they complimented my kids on their stash and their devout participation. Much to my surprise I felt totally exhilarated after the whole experience.

    

Apart from the various ceremonies that were conducted there were other festivities to be enjoyed at Kitain today. They had some festival food stalls as well as some stalls selling flowers and plants, but what interested me most were the various stalls selling good luck charms, mainly Daruma and Manekineko. As we entered Kitain from the car park we stopped to look at the Daruma at the first stall. The very friendly, personable and informative owner told us many things about the goods he was selling. While we were there a man bought one of the giant daruma which would cost around 20,000 yen (approximately 200 Eur0). We were invited to join in the Sanbonjime to mark the occasion.  Sanbonjime is the custom of clapping your hands rhythmically 3 times for 3 claps and one final clap to signify fulfillment. They only do this type of Tejime (ceremonial rhythmic clapping) when they sell their biggest sized Daruma. Passersby stopped to observe and exclaim enthusiastically. It was a lovely thing to be invited to enjoy and I think we may have received some good karma from it!

I have always enjoyed Setsubun as much for what it represents as the fun and vivaciousness of the celebration.  Now that the kids are old enough to enjoy the bean throwing ceremonies at temples, it just adds to the whole experience.  It completes the day for them too, as the celebration in the house is over quite quickly. The preparation of the masks and the aftermath of thrown beans take exponentially longer than the bean throwing ceremony itself! The kids love making the masks, feasting on the ehomaki, the traditional sushi rolls or makizushi and throwing the beans and eating them. (They say that if you eat the same number of beans as your age you will have good health for the year. ) However, I think after today’s experience,  what they are most anticipating now is the bean throwing ceremony at Kitain Temple Kawagoe. 🙂

For more details on Kitain Temple including maps, access details and other seasonal information:
http://insaitama.com/autumn-leaves-at-edo-castle-remains-kitain-temple/


A fantastic detailed and informative video about Setsubun in CHICHIBU SHRINE:

 

Easter in Saitama | Saitama Children’s zoo

Easter at Saitama Childrens zoo (4)My first Easter in Japan in 2001 the only place we could buy Easter eggs was on an American base. Last year, 2015, I could buy them in a local shop. This year they are even selling plastic eggs in the Daiso 100 yen shop. Like many of the Western holidays with marketing value, Japan has embraced the commercialism of Easter, without the customs and traditions. However, when my eldest was a baby, I happened upon one place with an Easter feel relatively close to us in Higashimatsuyama, Saitama. It became our custom to celebrate Easter there with the kids.

Peter Rabbit and Easter Egg

Saitama Children’s zoo has a Beatrix Potter museum, which you pay extra to view. However, beside it there is a small Peter Rabbit playground, which doesn’t cost extra. There isn’t much equipment in it, but the garden is nice and they have some Peter Rabbit statues and there is also a squirrel run. At Easter, they decorate the small play area with a basket of eggs in the treehouse slide and large Easter eggs beside the statues. With the rabbits and the eggs, and the baby chicks and rabbits you can visit nearby in the petting zoo, this became our favourite place to have Easter in our own way. The Peter Rabbit playground is kind of tucked out of view and with so much else to do in Saitama children’s zoo, it’s never really that busy. We’ve been able to have a few Easter egg hunts in that playground. The area isn’t too large and there are lots of places to hide eggs.Easter at Saitama Childrens Zoo (2)

In previous years, the children’s zoo actually had official egg hunts, and Peter Rabbit and friends popped in to help out. Unfortunately, they seem to have dropped that annual event in more recent years. There are some other places that usually host Easter events in Saitama, but they aren’t scheduled yet for 2016. I will add them to the calendar when the dates have been confirmed: http://insaitama.com/events/ . There are already events scheduled in many parts of Tokyo, a Google search in Japanese will bring them up, but Disneyland is probably still the best place to enjoy a more authentic type Easter holiday in the Kanto area.
Do you celebrate Easter? Where is your favourite place and what do you do?

Easter at Saitama Childrens zoo (3)INFORMATION

URL: http://www.parks.or.jp/sczoo/

PHONE: 0493-35-1234 

ADDRESS:  554 Iwadono, Higashimatsuyama, Saitama Prefecture 355-0065

HOURS: 9.30am to 5pm March to October, to 4.30pm from November 15th to February 10th. CLOSED ON MONDAYS 

COSTS:  Children free until primary school grade 1. Please see website for up-to-date costs.

MAP:

 

 

 

Cherry blossom festival at Kitain Temple

There are two main ways you can celebrate the blooming of cherry  blossoms in Japan; hanami, which involves picnicking under a cherry tree, or a Sakura matsuri, literally cherry blossom festival.  We enjoyed the latter at the famous Kitain temple in Kawagoe, yesterday.  Each year the Sakura Matsuri is held in Kitain Temple around the end of March to early April.


The kids had some festival food.

After walking around the various buildings and areas within the temple grounds they enjoyed the small, but colorful playground.

I was captivated by the cherry blossoms. I would have loved to attempt taking some artistic shots, but with 4 kids in tow that was not a possibility. 

 


Access from Kawagoe Station

Koedo Kawagoe bus one day pass allows you unlimited travel on the Koedo Kawagoe buses. It costs 300 yen. In the bus they have a monitor with sightseeing information.  Some tourist places give discounts on souvenirs or entrance tickets to people with a one day pass.
Koedo Kawagoe Loop Bus

Koedo Meguri (Loop) Bus from Kawagoe station. You can buy a one day pass that allows you unlimited travel on the Meguri Bus. It stops at 16 different locations. 104 different shops, offer discount services such as souvenirs, food, and entrance fees to facilities for holders of this day pass. There are announcements in English and Chinese as well as Japanese so foreigners can feel at ease.

More information here:
http://www.new-wing.co.jp/koedo/index_e.html

Kawagoe Access by train from Tokyo and Omiya

  • 31 minutes from Ikebukuro on a express train on the Tobu Tojo Line. 470 yen
  • 44 minutes from Seibu Shinjuku on a Red Arrow Limited Express. 420 yen for the express ticket, plus base fare.
  • 66 minutes from Shinjuku or 62 minutes from Takadanobaba on Seibu Shinjuku Line.  You can buy one round trip ticket for 700 yen for either of those stations.
  • 54 minutes from JR Shinjuku on a rapid train of the Saikyo/Kawagoe line. 760 yen.
  • 28 minutes on a regular train from Omiya on the Saikyo/Kawagoe Line or 22 minutes on the rapid train.
  • The Fukutoshin and Yurakucho subways connect to the Tobu Tojo line at Wako-shi. Some of them go all the way to Kawagoe (and beyond) too.

Access by Car

About 21 kilometres from Nerima to Kawagoe using the Kanetsu Expressway. The toll for the expressway is about 840 yen.

About 40 kilometres from Hinode using the Ken-o highway. The toll is about 1400 yen.

KITAIN TEMPLE OFFICIAL SITES

In English: http://www.kawagoe.com/kitain/english/

In Japanese: http://www.kawagoe.com/kitain/

Other seasonal information about Kitain

Autumn Leaves at Kitain Temple:

2015 Autumn Leaves at Edo Castle remains| Kitain Temple

New Year’s Special Event every year on January 3rd:

Kitain Temple Daruma Festival | KAWAGOE

Before the Cherry Blossoms 

February was particularly dismal this year and rain is forecast for most of this first week of March, but by the end of this month these barren trees will be dressed in their finest spring wear. We will have one of many “hanami” under these spreading Cherry Blossom trees.  Until then we will continue to enjoy the lesser known, but equally beautiful Ume or Japanese plum tree blooms.

If you are looking for ideas for where to enjoy hanami in Saitama, with young children, please take a look at the Cherry Blossom category on this blog. You will find information for some parks, such as Maruyama park and Kitamoto park, and other play areas such as Enomoto farm.

Hina Matsuri Displays. At a heritage house

Post 4 in a series of posts about where you can view traditional Hina Matsuri Doll displays in Japan.  These dolls may not be to the level of the Konosu Bikkuri Hina Matsuri pyramid displays, but they are  pretty and come with their own history.  They were taken at Nanbata Castle Park and Resource centre, a historical and cultural centre, park and heritage house in Fujimi City.

Fujimi Nanbata castle hina display

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Nanbata Castle cultural park and heritage house is a free, but fun place to visit with kids. They leave out period toys for children to play with, such as stilts and koma spinning tops. The address is 568-1 Shimonanbata, Fujimi 354-0004. Telephone is 049-253-4664.

The park is also host to a musket shooting display and festival. You can read more here.

Konosu Bikkuri Hina Matsuri / Surprising Doll Festival

The doll festival is celebrated on March 3rd, annually, for girl’s day in Japan.  Each household with young girls display hina dolls from early February for the health and prosperity of their daughters. The dolls are also associated with marriage and there is a belief that if you display the dolls past March 3rd it will adversely effect your daughter’s future marriage potential.  Traditionally dolls were tiered on platforms, but nowadays, the dolls are sold in cases. Most businesses and services, such as preschools and hospitals, display the traditional type tiered hina matsuri dolls from early February.


One of the largest displays of the traditional dolls, featuring Emperor, Empress and all the figures of the Imperial Court, as well as the ancient paraphernalia, is in Konosu, Saitama. The title of Konosu‘s famous girls day displays of dolls is very apt.  Bikkuri Hina matsuri literally means “surprising doll festival“.  When I walked into where they were hosted in 2015, I literally let out a very audible “WOW!” The displays are indeed surprising and also very impressive, easy to access and free to view. They will be open to the public from February 17th.

Konosu Bikkuri Hina Matsuri (3)

The municipality of Konosu celebrated its 60 year anniversary in 2015, but the area has a long doll making history,  dating back  approximately 380 years.  Coupled with the famous hina doll displays, this has earned Konosu the nickname of “Doll Town”.  There are different sites in Konosu displaying the tiered dolls of an Imperial court and/or palace. In 2015, we visited the largest at the Konosu City Hall. In 2016 the display was moved to Elumi mall beside the station and that is the current location to view the displays annually.

According to the offical website, the Konosu prefectural doll’s pyramid display is the tallest hina matsuri dolls display in the whole of Japan. There are 31 platforms and it is 7 metres high.  There is also a display outside in the courtyard,  some in cut bamboo, as well as a large display on a staircase inside and you can view hina dolls throughout the lobby and hallways of the ground and 1st floor of the City Hall. (You can also view other displays in the mall beside the station and  other locations, which may change each year.) Even the toilets of the city hall are marked with pictures of an Emperor for men and Empress for the lady’s toilet!

Men's toilet signKonosu Bikkuri Hina Matsuri (12)

 

It is free to view the dolls. The main display opens to the public annually on February 17th.  The new location at Elumi shopping mall beside the Kounosu train station (Takasaki line) is much easier to access as it is near the station:   http://www.elumikonosu.com/

The official event website is

http://kounosubina.main.jp/

Hina Matsuri activities and crafts:

Points of interest in Konosu:

ELUMI KONOSU

 

2015 information – there is also free parking for upto 200 cars.  Konosu City Hall is an approximate 20 minute walk from JR Takasaki Line Konosu Train Station or you can get a bus bound for the Driving license Centre 免許センター行き. The address is Chuo1-1, Konosu City, Saitama 365-8601. The telephone number is 048-541-1321. Viewing is until the 7th of March from 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday and until 4pm on Saturday and Sunday.

Hina Matsuri Doll displays. At a hospital

Here some photos of the hina matsuri doll display at the maternity and paediatrician practise we attend in Fujimi City. These dolls of an Emperor and Empress are displayed from early February to Girls Day on March 3rd. For more information and easy crafts for young children to do with Hina Matsuri, please click here.

Hina Matsuri Dolls display at KI (1) Hina Matsuri Dolls display at KI (2) Hina Matsuri Dolls display at KI (3) Hina Matsuri Dolls display at KI (4)

Hina Matsuri Displays. At a Preschool

You can see displays for the doll’s festivals in many places throughout Japan at the moment.  Here is one of the displays at my children’s preschool, shown with the 5 year old’s handmade origami paper Emperor and Empress dolls. For more information on and craft ideas for young children for the hina matsuri / dolls festival / girls day, please click here.
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Hina Matsuri Activity – make your own jigsaw

Our hina matsuri puzzle after 1 year old's colouring was "amended"!
Our homemade hina matsuri puzzle after 1 year old’s colouring was “amended”!

My hits this week from the search terms “Hina Matsuri Crafts” has encouraged me to showcase some more of our Hina Matsuri activities. This activity can actually be used for any occasion and thanks to the Daiso 100 yen store (dollar / euro store), it is easy to prepare and the materials are quite cheap. I reinforced body parts and colours with my 3 year old and 1 year old while teaching them more about the hina matsuri display and it’s contents.  For more information on Hina Matsuri, Japan’s Doll’s Festival celebrated March 3rd, please visit japanniversary.com

The materials:

"Drawable Puzzle" from Daiso 100 yen store
“Drawable Puzzle” from Daiso 100 yen store
  •  “Drawable puzzle” from Daiso (other 100 yen shops may carry them too). Or paper, cardboard and scissors if you want to make your own puzzle board.
  • A pencil, pen and colours. Washable markers – see explanation below.

Method:

Hina matsuri image copied freehand from nurie.ciao.jp
Hina matsuri image copied freehand from nurie.ciao.jp

On the drawable puzzle use a pencil to outline a picture representing Hina Matsuri. I copied an image from a colouring page on http://nurie.ciao.jp/ a website introduced on Hiragana Mama’s blog.  It is quite difficult to draw accurately over the lines where the puzzle pieces meet, so I was glad that I outlined in pencil first. I then went over in a thin pen, so the girls could see the lines when they were colouring it in. It is useful to either draw on to the frame of the jigsaw or write which end is up.

With washable markers
With washable markers

They were sharing a puzzle, that is why I suggest washable markers. I used a wet wipe over 1 year olds colouring to fix it up after so 3 year old would be happy with the finished jigsaw. It doesn’t get rid of it completely, but it fades the colour and it also worked out as a nice touch for the platforms rather than having to colour them in perfectly.  Upon completion, the kids can enjoy making the puzzle or it makes a nice homemade present for the grandparents!


Just on a side note, those 100 yen drawable puzzles are a handy souvenir from Japan for children. We don’t have them at home in Ireland, that my friends or I am aware of, and the younger kids in the family and among friends really love receiving them. You can buy them in a pack of two 25 piece puzzles or a pack of one 40 piece puzzle; each pack only costs 100 yen.

Easy Hina Matsuri Origami Dolls

Origami dolls

This is a really easy origami craft that preschoolers and origami beginners can enjoy. All you need is the free A4 printables available on HappyLilac.net.  You don’t need to be able to read Japanese. The blue Dairi-sama printable can be found here. The pink Hina-sama printable can be found here.  My 4 year old was able to complete his origami dolls without assistance, using the easy to follow visual guide here on HappyLilac.net  . Again Japanese reading ability not required as the method is shown step-by-step in photos, as pictured below. Three old was also able to do most of the folding herself, she just need a little help for the last fold. They really enjoyed this easy craft and were very proud of their origami dolls!
Origami instructions for hina dolls

More easy Hina Matsuri crafts to follow during the week!

 Other Hina Matsuri Crafts

 

Hina Matsuri Paper Cup Craft for Toddlers and Preschoolers

Hina Matsuri is the Doll’s festival celebrated annually for Girl’s Day on March the 3rd in Japan. Families display their Imperial dolls on tiered platforms or in a case from early Febru…

Source: insaitama.com/hina-matsuri-paper-cup-craft-for-toddlers-and-preschoolers/