Shogatsu (New Year)
The largest festival of Japan, Shogatsu is Japanese New Year which falls on the familiar Western New Year, means January 1. Many people start the New Year by eating soba (buckwheat) at midnight for good health. At dawn, the Emperor of Japan prays for the nation. Unlike in the West where the celebration focuses on New Years Eve revelry and short-lived resolutions, Shogatsu focuses on bringing prosperity in the upcoming year—beyond just hangover recovery. At midnight, Buddhist temples ring bells 108 times.
Setsubun (The Bean-Throwing Festival)
Fun and bizarre, the Setsubun kicks off the Haru Matsuri (Spring Festival) in Japan. It is an old tradition that has evolved into a televised event with national celebrities. Along with the big productions, small stages are set up around the country. Candy and money are thrown into the crowds which then rush forward to collect the small gifts.
People throw beans in mame maki ceremonies to drive away evil spirits that could foul up things later. One member of the household dons a demon mask and plays the "bad guy" as everyone else shouts and throws beans until he leaves.
Hanami (Cherry Blossom Festival)
An ancient tradition, hanami actually means "flower viewing". Hanami starts from mid-March to April, sometimes it lasts until May depending on how har north or south in Japan. During this festival, families and friends compete for quiet spots in busy parks to have picnics and parties, both day and night. Moreover, tea ceremonies are held under trees; folk songs, traditional dances, beauty pageants, and even parades add to the festive atmosphere.
Every year, thousands of hapless travelers manage to stumble right into the middle of Golden Week in Japan. They learn the hard way that the Golden Week holiday period is the busiest time to be anywhere near the archipelago. Golden Week is one of the busiest travel times in Japan, the first holiday of Golden Week is the celebration of the birthday of Emperor Hirohito (Showa Day) on April 29. Constitution Memorial Day hits on May 3 and is followed by Greenery Day on May 4 then Children's Day on May 5.
Although technically not an official national holiday, Obon is the most widely observed of Japanese festivals in the summer. Obon is a celebration of ancestors' spirits that come home to rest. People visit shrines, temples, and family graves during Obon. Fires are lit in front of homes and lanterns help guide the spirits. Obon is an important time for families; many heads back to their ancestral homes, causing long transportation delays and some closures.