Events and festivals
Early January: Dezome-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.
January 1st: Shogatsu 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 onsale everywhere, though many people these days print their own using their computers.
- January 3rd: The Yamanaka Hachiman-gu Den Den Gassari, in Maki-cho. This is a fascinating and popular Shinto harvest ceremony of tradition.
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 4th: Setsu-bun (bean-throwing festival), 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 tradtional 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.
- February - Saturday closest to February 7th: Takisanji 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 Okazaki winter 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.
- March 3rd: Hina Matsuri, also known as Doll Festival or Girls' Festival, where families pray for the happinness and health of their daughters; such families mark this day by setting up a display of dolls inside their home. With the dolls acting as a charm, this practice began during the Edo period (1603-1868) as a way of warding off evil spirits. The dolls don costumes of the imperial court during the Heian period (794-1192). The number of steps on the platform where the different sized dolls are placed is usually five to seven layers. Single-tiered displays with one male and one female doll are also common. A typical display would be something in the likes of this: the top tier is exclusively for the emperor and empress. Like the real Imperial throne of the ancient court, a minature gilded folding screen is placed behind them. The second tier sits three ladies-in-waiting, and the third tier sits five male court musicians. Ministers sit on either side of trays of food on the fourth tier and the fifth tier features guards flanked by an orange tree to their left and a cherry tree to their right. The display of dolls is installed at around mid-February and put away promptly as soon as the festival is over. According to an old superstition families that are slow in putting away the dolls have trouble marrying off their daughters. Later in the month, it is worth heading to northern Okazaki to Okuyamada-cho (near the Hokuto-dai housing complex) to see the "Weeping Cherry Tree". According to the legends, this tree was planted 1300 years ago by the Empress Jito. The flowers bloom a little bit earlier than the trees near the castle and have beautiful pink blossoms.
Warmth! Flowers. Parties. Renewal. April is the beginning of the year as far as many people are concerned, as its the time when schools commence, companies induct new employees etc. In Okazaki, the sakura (cherry blossoms) are now in full bloom, and singing and laughter can be heard along the riverbanks and in the parks as "hanami" parties get into full swing.
April 1st to 15th: Cherry Blossom Festival - The cherry trees near the castle, and along the Sugo and Iga rivers, are amongst the most popular spots. The flowers near the castle are illuminated during this period, with the liveliest nights for parties being Fridays and Saturdays. Apart from people watching and flower viewing, this is a good time to partake of the various delicacies being sold by hundreds of small "yatai" stalls - squid on a stick, chicken skewers, and just about everything else. The delicate little flowers don't last long (especially if it rains), and if there is the slightest breeze they rain down on the revellers like confetti.
- April, usually the first Sunday: Ieyasu Parade - Right when the sakura are in full bloom, there is a fun festival called the Ieyasu Parade. This is a procession that marches from the Iga Hachiman-gu shrine in Iga-cho to Okazaki castle, starting at Igahachimangu at 01:30pm. The participants are mostly dressed in armor as samurai or ashigaru (the foot soldiers of that era) as they march or ride horses through the streets. The exceptions being the finalists of the Miss Okazaki contest, who tend to be wearing something a little more petite. Bring your camera, bring lots of film. If you really want to get into the spirit of the occasion, why not participate in the March itself. If you contact the Okazaki International Association, it may be possible to don armor and join the March.
May is usually good weather - neither warm nor cool, so its a good time to be out and about. Early May is a problem - the consecutive public holidays of "Golden Week" makes travel uncomfortable, but if you are in Okazaki this is a good time to head to the castle and enjoy the "Gomangoku Fuji Matsuri" (a Wisteria Festival - Fuji being the kanji character for the flower, which is also the official "City Flower"). As with the cherry blossoms of a month or so earlier, the flowers are illuminated in the evenings, and attract quite a crowd (good people watching opportunity this).
May 5th: Kodomo no Hi (Children's Day - a National Holiday) The 5th is a boy's festival, If you keep an eye out, you will notice a lot of houses (and even apartments) flying colorful "koi nobori" (silk carp streamers) from tall poles. There is usually one per boy in the household, as parents pray for the son(s).
May 8th to 10th: Hana no To (Flower Pagoda) At Seigan-ji temple in Yahagi-cho, prayers are offered for the year's harvest.
- May, second Saturday and Sunday: Shinmei-sha Shrine Festival - You can see children parading in colorful costumes, the beating of taiko drums, and flutes, young ladies doing traditional dances, young men pulling a huge mikoshi shrine etc.
The rainy season (the actual amount of rain varies every year) sets in for around 3 weeks. This is a good time to head to Higashi Koen to see the hydrangea flowers bloom and the irises. If you haven't seen them before, an interesting excursion is to the riverbanks in Nukata and Oidaira to see the fireflies (hotaru). These glowing insects are returning to their original numbers now that the use of agricultural chemicals is more controlled.
- June, first Sunday: Yuki Saiden O-taue Matsuri (Rice Planting Festival). This festival commemorates a gift of rice to the Emperor Taisho. These days rice is usually planted by machine, in this festival the clock is turned back, and the participants plant by hand, sing and dance. Good photo opportunities.
Summer here is hot and humid. Good time to visit one of the beer gardens.
- July 7th: Tanabata (Star festival). This was an old Chinese festival, celebrating the day two stars - the Herdsman (Altair) and the Weaver (Vega) - meet in night sky, like separated lovers. It's also a good excuse for a party. Compared to Okazaki, the neighbouring city of Anjo has the best events. On the 7th, children write a wishes onto colored paper and tie it to a leaf of bamboo.
August 13th - 15th: O-Bon - A "Lantern Festival" or "The Festival of the Dead" where people remember their ancestors. A visit to graves is a common activity. The tradition is that everyone returns to their hometown to tend the graves and family altars, making it difficult (and expensive) to travel.
August, first Saturday: Okazaki Fireworks Festival - half a million people turn up to watch what is effectively a showcase of Japan's most advanced fireworks designs - it goes for hours until the spectcular climax.
August, the night before the Okazaki Fireworks Festival (Friday): O-Mikoshi matsuri Held in Kosei-cho, during this parade teams are carrying portable shrines through the streets, spinning them around, shouting and cheering. It's colorful and exciting, worth a look.
- August, the night before the O-Mikoshi matsuri (Thursday): Gomangoku Odori (a Bon festival dance) passes through the same streets.
The seasons in Okazaki are quite pronounced. In September, one day it is hot, humid and a bit oppressive, and then within a few days it suddenly changes and becomes pleasant. The evenings become cooler and you feel more like walking. Many people buy crickets in stores and keep them in small tanks in their homes, the chirping of the cricket ringing in the autumn.
From mid-October to around the second week of November, its time to party under the leaves. The tradition of viewing the "Koyo" is a long one, with the maple trees providing a carpet of red and yellow. The first leaves to change color are in the hills to the east - take a bus to Kourankei in Asuke for one of the most beautiful spots.
- Late October: Mikawa no Kiku Matsuri (Mikawa Chrysanthemum Festival) at Okazaki Castle (and a few other places). There are lots of beautiful chrysanthemums (Japan's national flower), and more excuses for enjoying a drink with friends.
Red and yellow leaves line the city streets, and the hills to the east are particularly lovely (take a ride out there on a bicycle, drive up to Lake Mikawa, or take a bus to beautiful Korankei Gorge in nearby Asuke).
- Early November: Aki no Shi-min Matsuri (Fall Citizens Festival) that is a little bit manufactured, but still fun. As with April, the center of activity is the area adjacent to the castle next to the Sugo River. There are displays of local products, hundreds of "yatai" stalls, and portable "Mikoshi" shrines.
If you are a jogger, it is possible to join in the Okazaki City Marathon (some run the whole distance, others run the part of the distance using a relay of runners). Enquire at City Hall for details.
It's suddenly cold, and its not unusual to have one or two days of snow just to remind you. The end of the calendar year is usually fairly hectic as people prepare for the New Year. It is expected that there will be a lot of cleaning, relatives to visit, "nengajo" cards to write (or print), and in many cases trips to plan.
- December 24th, evening: Christmas - It has basically been adopted and adapted into a festival for lovers - especially younger ones. Minimum requirements for Christmas eve are a Date, Dinner, and Christmas Cake. However there is no Christmas Day. If the 25th is a weekday, then hi ho, hi ho, it's off to work we go. As with everywhere else in Japan, it is business as usual. The big event of December is actually midnight on the 31st - see January at the top of the page.