Posts Tagged ‘Japanese Festivals’

White Day, Red Faces

March 14, 2017

Did you hear about how Japanese lingerie makers tried to persuade Japanese males to give gifts of unmentionables to their lady colleagues on a certain day each year? No, it didn’t go very well.

Back in the 1970s, Japanese confectionary makers were thinking up ways to boost sales when they heard of this thing in the west called St Valentine’s Day. They borrowed the name and reinvented the festival as an occasion for Japanese women to give chocolate to love interests, and when that worked, expanded the marketing to persuade them to give chocolate to pretty well any man they were acquainted with, again, with considerable success.

Well, you know how it is, one marketing opportunity leads to another and the same confectionary makers summoned out of thin air a reciprocal celebration when men could give presents of chocolate back to the women in their lives.

The grey eminences of Japan’s confectionary association decreed that this ‘festival’ should be on March 14, exactly one month after Valentine’s, and that it should be called White Day, because of the colour’s association with purity and innocence, and perhaps in memory of the colour your teeth used to be before being marinated in all that sugar.

Japanese custom has it that a gift received should be returned three-fold and the nation’s chocolate makers were onto an annual bonanza.

The lingerie makers looked on in envy, decided that white could go with their product, and launched their own campaign to persuade Japan’s very masculine but very reserved males to walk into shops selling girly underthings and then give these intimate items not just to their loved ones but to the gals at the office too.

This initiative didn’t catch on like the chocolate-giving did and died a swift (and merciful) death.

A few brave souls did attempt to do as the marketers bid them, and whether this was out of obedience, gaucheness, or some darker motive is not recorded. Nor is it recorded how many outraged boyfriends and husbands marched round to their beloved’s place of work with sleeves rolled up and jaw set in steely determination looking for an explanation that had better be good.

So if you happen to be touring Japan on March 14 you can reasonably expect a windfall of chocolate, but if a Japanese gentleman asks you to accept a gift that seems neither appropriate nor, well, acceptable, there is no need to be offended, it’s just a marketer’s way of being friendly.



Hinamatsuri — a Girls’ Day for everyone

March 2, 2016

Girls’ Day, or Hinamatsuri, must be one of the most picturesque festivals in Japan, centring as it does on collections of exquisitely-made dolls.

The dolls, which are called hina-ningyo, represent the most Japanese qualities of beauty, craft, and mind-boggling attention to minute detail.

In early March, the dolls, each dressed in classical and often courtly attire, are set out on display on tiered stands that are covered in red cloth — a red carpet and parade of costumes to rival the one at the Oscars.

The alternative name for the festival is Doll’s Day but the temptation to associate girls and dolls as stereotyping would be mistaken. In Japan, dolls have symbolic power, and were traditionally thought to capture and contain spirits, which may be good or bad depending on the circumstances. Dolls bearing malign spirits would be floated down rivers and out to sea taking the bad luck with them, and this practice was once at the heart of Hinamatsuri ceremony — and in some shrines still is.

In modern times, the original purpose of the dolls may not be uppermost in the minds of the Japanese, who are more likely to see this as an occasion to decorate the home, revel in the beauty of the dolls and celebrate family.

Certainly, the modern dolls are too beautiful and expensive to float down any river. They may have been passed down through the generations, each family adding to the collection, or they may have been expensively bought in time for the first birthday of the first daughter.

There’s a huge variety of dolls. Some are distinctly regal in appearance, some are koto-playing musicians, and every role in between is represented. Unsurprisingly given where we are, each has its own significance. And of course, the exact positioning of each doll on the display is a matter of utmost importance. There is enough arcana in these dolls to keep you busy for a lifetime, however, we can all appreciate them without special knowledge.

Hinamatsuri is mostly a family festival, with displays put up at home. However, there are also plenty of public displays and events at stores and shrines, and anyone touring in Japan in early March will have plenty of opportunity to see these displays and marvel at them.

Girls’ Day is March 3rd, but the displays of dolls might go up at the end of February. They are all taken down on March 4th.

In many areas, Girls’ Day coincides with the plum blossom season, another spring tour of Japan treat, which will make March a richly rewarding time to visit Japan in 2017 or any year.


Hina-Ningyo doll display  Private Tours of Japan