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 April.
Did you know that April has two other names in Japanese: Uzuki (卯月), Hana nagori dzuki (花名残月).
Uzuki refers to U-no-hana (Deutzia), a white spring flower, that starts blooming in the month of April.
Showa Day, April 29
The only statutory holiday in April, Showa Day is the birthday of the Emperor Showa. From 1948 to 1988 (Showa period), it was called the “Emperor’s Birthday.” However, after the emperor passed away, it was changed to Greenery Day in order to thank for the blessings of nature. From 2007 onwards, it was changed to “Showa Day” due to a revision of the law.
It is said that this national holiday was designated as a day to reflect on the future of the country while looking back on the Showa era, which was a tough time in the history of Japan.
New semester begins (early April)
In Japan, a new school semester begins in April. It is also the beginning of the financial year for many companies and new employees have their first day at work. You’ll be able to see elementary children newly enrolled in school carrying a new backpack called a randoseru.
Japanese elementary school students are expected to use their randoseru for six years. The material and make of the bags is of the highest quality to offer the most comfort which is why they can be quite expensive.
Anpan Day, April 4
Anpan is a snack that is very popular among Japanese: bread filled with red bean paste . Kimuraya in Ginza is said to be the originator of anpan.
It is said that in 1875, anpan of the Kimuraya was presented as a tribute to Emperor Meiji while viewing the cherry blossoms. Since then, Kimuraya opened many branches gaining immense popularity all over Japan. April 4, when the first anpan was presented as a gift, was registered as “Anpan Day” in 2001.
Hanamatsuri (Flower festival), April 8
In Japan, Buddha’s Birthday is celebrated on April 8 of the solar calendar under the name of Hana Matsuri (Flower Festival). Japan is a country deeply influenced by Buddhism. If you have the opportunity to go to a Buddhist temple on this day, you will see a small flower hall and Buddha statues in the temple. Legend has it that Sakyamuni was born surrounded by flowers and nectar fell from the sky at the time. On the day of the flower festival, there is a custom of pouring sweet tea over a statue of Sakyamuni.
Flower viewing, also known as “Hanami” in Japanese, is not a special festival, but it can be said to be the most important event in March. Cherry blossoms in Japan start blooming starting from the south around mid-March till early May in the north. No matter how old one gets, the Japanese make sure to enjoy this special time with cherry blossoms and usually March is the busiest for hanami parties.
Check out our feature on the Hanami spots in Kamakura close to Tokyo!
Hiking is also an outdoor activity that Japanese people are very keen on in this month.
These days you can buy almost any ingredient throughout the year. However, it is best to eat what’s in season as that produce is the most delicious. If you come to Japan in April, you can’t go wrong with these ingredients.
Seafood: Sakura ebi（サクラエビ), whitebait (shirasu, シラス), firefly squid (hotaruika, ホタルイカ), clams (hamaguri, ハマグリ), asari clams (アサリ)
Fruits and vegetables: spring cabbage (haru kyabetsu, 春キャベツ), onions (tamanegi, タマネギ), Bamboo shoots (takenoko, 筍), Fatsia sprouts (taranome, タラノメ), butterbur (fuki, フキ)
Hope this feature has given you a good idea of what to expect in Japan during April. 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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