Japan has four distinct seasons, and there are many traditional events and holidays throughout the year that celebrate the seasons. Along with the seasonal changes, you also see changes in the food, and since long, Japanese have favoured eating dishes made using fresh seasonal ingredients.
One of the ways to enjoy a trip to Japan is to be aware of the major events and festivals, customs and traditions including food available in each month. In this feature, we talk about some of the customs and traditions that have been followed over the centuries in the month of February.
February is also known as Umemidzuki (梅見月) and Hatsuhanadzuki (初花月). Both these are related to flowers. The former refers to viewing plum blossoms in the month of February while the latter means the month of the first blooming flowers. With the plum blossoms reaching their peak bloom by end of February, everyone waits with bated breath for the glory of spring.
Setsubun, last day of winter (February 3)
Setsubun literally means the division of seasons. It means that winter is about to pass and spring is about to come. The Japanese have an interesting custom on Setsubun: people dress up as oni (demons) to scare children. Meanwhile, children and even the elderly throw raw beans out of the window while shouting “Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!” meaning “Devil’s out! Fortune in!”
Every year, lively bean-throwing activities are held in major shrines and temples. It is a pity that all the activities have been suspended this year due to the pandemic.
Another custom is to eat Ehou-maki, a large sushi roll with various seafood, egg and vegetables. Ehou-maki is supposed to have seven ingredients as its a lucky number and you have to eat it while facing the lucky direction of the year. Setsubun is considered an auspicious time of the year.
Risshun, first day of spring (February 4)
Japan is a country with four distinct seasons, and it also attaches great importance to the changing period of each season. Although Japanese people do not use the lunar calendar in everyday life, they have not forgotten about solar terms. Risshun is the first solar term, the official beginning of spring in Eastern culture.
There are often strong winds around Japan at the beginning of spring. The Japanese call it “Haruichiban (春一番)” which is the first strong wind that blows from the south after the beginning of spring. Although the wind is strong, it is already quite warm.
Niku-no-Hi, Meat day (February 9)
This day is quite interesting. In Japan, many supermarkets or butcher shops will choose days with 2 and 9 to offer discounts, such as February 9th or the 29th of each month, and so on. This is because the pronunciation of “niku (肉)” or meat in Japanese is the same as the pronunciation of the number 2, 9.
National Foundation Day (February 11)
February 11 is the anniversary of the founding of the nation of Japan. It is a national holiday, so even though it is not a weekend, there will be a lot of people traveling and shopping. If you want to go shopping or visit scenic spots, try to avoid doing so on February 11.
Valentine’s Day (February 14)
Although this is introduced from the West, it is obviously hyped by Japanese chocolate manufacturers in Japan more than in other countries. If you are a chocolate lover and have the opportunity to come to Japan in early February, you will be in for a treat because as soon as the month of February starts till Valentine’s Day, major chocolate brands and dessert shops launch many new chocolates and limited edition desserts.
These days you can buy almost any ingredient throughout the year. However, it is best to eat what’s in season as they are the most delicious. If you come to Japan in February, you can’t go wrong with these ingredients. There are a lot of mountain vegetables that can only be eaten in February, so don’t miss trying some of them.
・Seafood： Pacific cod (tara, 鱈), blowfish (fugu, 河豚), goby (haze, 鯊), Japanese Spanish mackerel (sawara, 鰆), spear squid (yariika, 槍烏賊), Japanese smelt (wakasagi, 公魚), sardine (iwashi, 鰯)
・Fruits and vegetables：Japanese mustard spinach (komatsuna, 小松菜), rapeseed (nabana, 菜花), brussel sprouts (mekyabetsu, 芽キャベツ), fukinotou, edible flower bud of the fuki plant (蕗の薹), lily root (yuri-no-ne, 百合の根)
Hope this feature has given you a good idea of what to expect in Japan during February. Keep an eye out for some of the things mentioned here and you’re sure to have a wonderful holiday in Japan.
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