January 1stThis is arguably the most important day of the year. After sitting around eating, drinking and watching TV, it seems as though most of the city is out at midnight, heading to temples to ring in the new year with the temple bells. It is a time when most people are on holidays (many companies are closed, it is usually only people in the retail sector who are working). Most of the temples and shrines provide warm "amazake" (sweet sake) to the midnight visitors and for the more close knit communities in the city it is mix of revelry and obligation.
One of the things you will notice is the tradition of writing "Nengajo" (New Year's Cards, sent in Japan instead of Christmas cards). These are on sale everywhere, though many people these days print their own using their computers.
January 3rdThe Yamanaka Hachiman-gu Den Den Gassari, in Maki-cho.This is a fascinating and popular Shinto harvest ceremony of tradition.
Early JanuaryDezome-shiki, on the Sugo River banks near the castle. This is a parade of the city fire brigades, bring a camera for the fire ladder acrobatics.
This is the coldest time of the year. There is often light snowfall. It is also a good time to observe some interesting festivals.
February 3rd or 4thFebruary 3rd or 4th: Setsu-bun (bean-throwing festival) On either the 3rd or 4th of February, Setsubun, an event in which many households participate in a bean-throwing ceremony (mame-maki). A wooden measuring cup-like container, known as a 'masu' is filled with roasted soya-beans. Whilst shouting 'Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!' ('Out with the goblins and in with Fortune!'), these beans are then thrown around the rooms of a household.
According to the traditional Japanese calendar, this mame-maki began as a New Year ceremony to drive out evil spirits and misfortune and to pray for the family's well-being all year round.
Takisanji Oni MatsuriThe Oni Matsuri (Ogre or fire festival) is held here every February - usually on the Saturday closest to February 7th as this is the the New Year in the old Lunar Calendar. Part of the festival involves blessings for 42, 25, and 12 year old males - of which about 3 males are selected as representatives for participation in a ceremony held in the main hall. The 3 males wear ceremonial masks - the 42 year wears the mask of a grandfather, the 25 year old the mask of a grandmother, and the young boy wears the mask of a grandson. In addition, about 30 men (usually but not necessarily elderly men) who were born in a year with the same sign of the Chinese zodiac as the year of the festival participate in a ceremony holding burning torches. The festival is famous in the Mikawa region as a traditional religious ceremony to greet the beginning of spring.
Although the winter Okazaki is comparatively mild, the first signs of Spring bring out the smiles. In places such as Minami Koen it's a good time to see the plum blossoms start to bloom.
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