gShogatsuh literally means the first month of the year.@ However, many people tend to consider Shogatsu as the New Yearfs holiday period.@ For some, Shogatsu is from the 1st to 3rd of January, or gSanganichih. For others, Shogatsu is from the 1st to 7th of January, or gMatsunouchih.@ In Japanese, the word gGantanh means the 1st of January, the day that Japanese people celebrate the New year.
In the new year, many Japanese go to a Buddhist temple or Shinto shrine to pray for good fortune for the following twelve months. This first visit of the new year is called Hatsumode.
Setsubun is a festival that is held on February 3rd or 4th. Its purpose is to chase away evil spirits. People throw beans while shouting, @gOni wa soto, Fuku wa uchih, or gDevils out, happiness in.h@ To celebrate, they also eat the same number of beans as their age.
Hina-matsuri, literally Dollfs Festival, is a festival for girls that is celebrated on March 3. On this day, families with girls wish their daughters a successful and happy life. Special dolls, called Hina-ningyou, are displayed in houses where there are daughters. To celebrate Hina-matsuri, people drink sweet sake and eat special cakes, such as Hina-arare (a kind of rice cracker) and Hishimochi (a lozenge shape cake).
The cherry blossom (sakura) is the non-official national flower of Japan and has special meaning for the Japanese. People celebrate this time of the year with gHanamih flower viewing parties, when they eat, drink and sing under the blossoming trees. In Tochigi, cherry blossoms begin to bloom in the beginning of April.
Golden Week is a collection of several national holidays which fall within a week at the end of April and beginning of May. Golden Week becomes one of the longest holidays of the year as many companies give additional holidays to make Golden Week a continuous holiday. It is the optimal season for going on picnics or to resorts, and consequently, many vacation spots are very crowded during this period.
Starting around the middle of June, the rainy season (called Tsuyu) begins, lasting about one month.@ Due to the high humidity, many households have trouble with molding and are forced to take care when storing their food.
Once the rainy season ends, the hot summer begins. The rapid increase in temperature often causes unstable weather conditions during the daytime.@ Many hot and sunny summer days end with extremely heavy evening rain and lots of thunder and lightening. This type of evening rain is called Yuudachi.
Obon is a Buddhist festival during which onefs ancestors are remembered.@ Obon takes place in the middle of August (generally from the 13th to 15th). It is one of the few occasions when a large number of Japanese take holidays. All forms of transportation are very crowded with people returning to their hometowns.
In October and November, trees leaves change color, taking on beautiful red, orange and yellow hues. Japanese people are quite sensitive to the changing of seasons, and appreciate it.@ During this period, a lot of people go to the mountains or forests in order to enjoy the beauty of nature. The word Koyo literally means gleaves changing to redh.
Christmas in Japan is celebrated as a family festival rather than a religious event.@ Some Japanese decorate trees, eat cake and give presents to children.
Oomisaka, or New Yearfs eve, is celebrated on December 31. On this day, many Japanese families eat toshi-koshi-soba (meaning gyear-crossing noodlesh), a way of wishing for a long and happy life.@ Just before midnight on New Yearfs eve, bells called Joya-no-Kane are rung at temples all around the country. The bells are struck 108 times in succession, following the teachings of Buddha. It is believed that a human being has 108 evil thoughts, and that the ringing of these bells expels these thoughts.
When the Japanese meet someone they know, they generally greet each other by bowing and by uttering a common greeting such as gOhayou gozaimasuh(good morning), gKonnichiwah(good afternoon) or gKonbanwah (good evening).
Advance notice for absence or latenesskJIZEN RENRAKUl
In Japanese society, people tend to be very punctual.@ If for some reason you will not arrive on time or will not be able to attend a meeting, it is best to notify the person concerned in advance, in order to explain the reason for your absence.
In Japan, people quite often use the Inkan (name-seal) for official agreements (e.g. financial transactions, contracts, applications, etc.), in the same way that western cultures use the signature. The use of a name-seal is preferred, so you should obtain one if needed.
In the Japanese business world, when meeting for the first time, people exchange business cards as a way of introducing themselves.@ Having business cards can be a very convenient way to present yourself, even in daily use.
Japanese-style houseskIE NO NAKAl
The entrances of most Japanese houses and apartments have a small area, lower down than the rest of the house, for removing onefs shoes before entering. Usually there are slippers which guests can wear, but be sure not to wear these slippers into a room with Tatami mats.
There are two types of toilets in Japan, western- and Japanese-style. When you use a Japanese-style toilet, you squat. Please be sure never to throw any womenfs sanitary items or other objects into these toilets.
The traditional Japanese-style bed, called a futon, is generally stored in a closet during the day and remade in the evening. On sunny days, people put their futons out to air.
The Japanese bathkFUROl
Many Japanese take daily baths. When taking a bath, the water is often not changed each time.@ In order to avoid making the water dirty, please wash yourself before getting into the tub. Japanese baths are used more for soaking the body than for cleaning it. This is true in public baths as well.
Because Japanese people live so close to each other, they are often very sensitive to the noise their neighbors make.@ Therefore, please do not disrespect or anger your neighbors by making lots of noise, such as partying or watching the television loudly late at night or early in the morning.
Celebrating happy eventskOIWAIGOTOl
When friends or relatives are celebrating things such as the birth of a baby, a graduation or a marriage, Japanese people often give presents, usually money.@ When giving money as a gift, use a special, decorated envelope, called a ggoshuugi-bukuroh. Be sure to use fresh bills.@ If you receive a gift, please be sure to show your gratitude.
When people die, there are two kinds of ceremonies, one which usually takes place at the house of the deceased person, and another which is the funeral itself. When you attend these ceremonies, particularly a funeral, it is highly recommended to wear black in order to show your condolences.@ When meeting the family of the deceased, as a custom people usually give money in special envelopes decorated for funerals.
Local community and children's associationskJICHIKAIEKODOMOKAIl
In Japan, towns or local communities often organize various activities. Although you are not obliged to participate in all the events, you are encouraged to take part in some. A folder containing information about all the activities in your neighborhood, as well as local announcements, may be passed between neighbors. Once you have read the information, please sign your name and pass on the folder to another neighbor on the list.
For further information, please ask your neighbors or local government
When you go on a picnic or visit tourist sites, it is required that you bring back your own garbage.@ It is also forbidden to throw away garbage at the park or on the road. If you disobey the law, you will be fined.
Eating while walking or in public transportation is considered to be bad manners. It is also considered rude to make loud noises, including blowing your nose loudly.
Giving tips is not a Japanese custom. However, an extra service fee might be charged when you eat out or stay at a hotel.