Valentine's Day in Japan: what to expect?

red string is a symbol for love in Japan
The red string of destiny is a common metaphor in Japan for lovers’ fate

As with every other imported holiday, Japan puts its own twist on Valentine’s Day as well. If you are used to a variety of romantic gifts such as chocolates, candles, jewelry, special dinners, flowers and so on, you might be surprised that in Japan it’s chocolate only. In fact, chocolate companies make half their annual sales during Valentine’s season. But what Japan lacks in variety of Valentine’s Day gifts, it makes up in variety of chocolates. Around this time all shops and department stores are well stocked with chocolates, so even if you are not buying them as a gift, it’s worth buying them for yourself, as you can get your hands on limited edition varieties.

The history of Valentine’s Day in Japan

Unlike the Valentine’s Day celebrations in the West, in Japan, Valentine’s Day is not for couples exchanging gifts, it’s actually only the women who give chocolate to men. Before you start wondering if there is some sinister plot here, the anecdotal explanation is that when the holiday was imported in Japan it had the misfortune of being wrongly translated. At the time when not many people expressed feelings freely this giving of chocolates as a love confession was more than welcome. Decades later it’s part of Japanese culture and looks like it’s here to stay. But don’t think men are off the hook so easily. They have to prepare for a day called White Day.

black and white chocolates

What is White Day?

A response to Valentine’s day and a chance to even out things between men and women, White Day was established in 1978 and it falls exactly a month later, on March 14th. This is the chance for men to reciprocate the Valentine gifts and it is believed that true gentlemen double or triple the worth or amount of the gift they previously received. The name comes from one of the first marketing campaigns for this holiday when a Fukuoka company marketed marshmallows as the perfect gifts. Following that, white chocolate became a favorite, although nowadays men seem to give all kinds of chocolates. The official statement nowadays is that white as a color stands for sugar and therefore everything sweet. Some men are even getting closer to the Western tradition of Valentine gift-giving with opting to gift lingerie, jewelry, flowers and so on. You might be wondering why they don’t go for the ever popular romantic Valentine date, but that date traditionally for the Japanese happens on Christmas Eve.

white day gifts

Not all valentine chocolates are equal

The choice of chocolates that companies put out for Valentine’s Day is astounding, but there are also choices the gift-giver has to make. For starters, it is really important whether you are going to buy the chocolate or buy ingredients and tools to make chocolate from scratch. It doesn’t matter if you are a good cook or not, the stores have everything covered so that anyone can make chocolate. What matters is how much effort you want to put in your chocolate gift and usually hand-made chocolates mean a lot of love and attention.

handmade chocolate

That being said, you probably understand that this chocolate is not for everyone. But then again, Valentine’s is only for your significant other, right? Well, in Japan, yes and no. You give chocolates to more people and according to that the Valentine’s Day chocolate can be separated in three categories: honmei choco, giri choco and tomo choco. Let’s break down these chocolate conundrums one by one.

three different chocolates

1. Honmei choco (本命チョコ)

This translates as “real chocolate/real love chocolate” and as mentioned above it will probably be either hand-made or very luxurious and expensive. As the name suggests, this one is meant for the person you love or are in a relationship with and it is the closest custom to Valentine’s Day as it is known in the West. This year’s Valentine’s Day KitKat’s new unique ruby colored chocolate is said to be the most sought after.

handmade sweets

2. Giri choco (義理チョコ)

This translates as “obligatory/duty chocolate”, that is chocolate you give on Valentine’s as an obligation or a duty to men other than your love interest or significant other. These men are most often work colleagues or male family members. It’s a social obligation that probably came about because of the aspect of Japanese culture that values inclusion and a lot of people must have felt excluded if they didn’t get any chocolate. This obligation chocolate is the reason why honmei choco keeps getting more luxurious to set itself apart from giri choco which is usually store-bought and cheap, or a box of smaller chocolates passed around the office for everyone to take a piece.

chocolate heart

However, a lot of women dislike this outdated practice, rejoicing when Valentine’s Day falls on the weekend. Some bosses have recently formally banned obligatory chocolate and this year the luxury chocolate brand Godiva even ran an advertisement advising people to stop buying obligatory chocolate and preserve the special meaning of true feelings chocolate only. Who knows, maybe this custom is slowly on its way out of the culture.

assorted chocolates

3. Tomo choco (友チョコ)

The most recent type of Valentine’s Day chocolate giving is tomo choco or “friendship chocolate”. In the same vein of not excluding anyone, girls started giving Valentine’s chocolates to their girl friends just for fun. You can never have too much chocolate, right?

chocolate present

Finally, it’s common wisdom that opposites make a whole, so let’s not forget single people. Both on Christmas Eve and Valentine’s Day it has been getting more and more popular to make singles’ parties on Valentine’s Day around Tokyo. So there is something for everyone to look forward to during Valentine season!

love in lipstick


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

Zoria April
Zoria is a writer, of the rare poet variety and a passionate photographer. If you see somebody around Tokyo taking photos of concrete walls, it must be her. She loves to dress fashionably and go drink as many cups of coffee as humanly possible, preferably in cafes with a view.MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

Ninja ID: zoria

The Kanaya Hotel -Refinement born from a clash of cultures-

kanaya-hotel-in-the-snow

The cedar trees that encompass Nikko in Tochigi prefecture have witnessed countless stories unfold throughout the history of the city. From early Shinto pilgrimages to the construction of the sumptuous Toshogu Shrine, the final resting place of the shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu and pinnacle of the blend of Shinto and Buddhist architecture. It is also here where a tale of clash of cultures, architecture, art and Japanese hospitality was born with the founding of the Kanaya Hotel, the longest running hotel catering to foreign guests which opened in 1873.

The Kanaya Hotel: entering a world of a bygone era

I take a bus at Tobu Nikko Station and after only five minutes, I find myself at the beautiful Shinkyo Bridge, and just in front of it, I see the Kanaya Hotel, my destination.

As I make my way up a hill the chilly winter air nips at my cheeks. I come to see a peculiar Japanese-style lamp adorned with red-orange wooden carvings and a neat lettering reading: KANAYA HOTEL. It doesn’t particularly stand out, but it feels as though I’m trespassing into the whimsical setting of a popular novel full of complex characters trapped in the distant past.

kanaya-hotel-lamp
kanaya-hotel-sign

kanaya-hotel-front

As I reach the main entrance, I take a look around what looks like a Western-style building with Japanese accents that puzzle me for a moment. As a Westerner, I feel a vague feeling of familiarity, and yet at the same time there is something original and unique here. As I walk through the revolving wooden doors I’m transported to world a hundred years ago.

kanaya-hotel-reception

Despite the general appearance of a luxurious mountain lodge, I can’t help but notice Japanese elements such as the intricate and colorful woodcarvings that adorn the doors, or the vermilion handrails overlooking the lobby that could have been easily found inside a Shinto shrine.

I’m told that the wall behind the counter is made out of Oya stone, an igneous rock found in the area made out of lava and ash that became a popular construction material in Japan during the Meiji period. Adorning the wall, hang two pictures of key figures in the history of Kanaya Hotel: American Missionary James Curtis Hepburn and English writer Isabella Bird.

The Kanaya Hotel circa 1921
The Kanaya Hotel circa 1921

The origins of the legendary hotel

The legend goes that James Curtis Hepburn visited Nikko back in 1871 and stayed at the house of a musician belonging to the Toshogu Shrine, Zenichiro Kanaya. It’s said that Hepburn, for seeing the touristic potential that Nikko would have among foreigners, suggested Kanaya to open a hotel exclusively for foreign guests.

Zenichiro Kanaya following Hepburn’s advice, opened the Cottage Inn in 1873 exclusively for foreigners. In 1878, the explorer and writer Isabella Bird stayed at Kanaya’s Cottage Inn for twelve days as part of her journey from Tokyo to Hokkaido, which she documented on her book “Unbeaten tracks in Japan”, published in 1880. In this travelogue, she gives a detailed account of everything she saw and experienced during her stay, and even provides insight into some of her thoughts, including this one, which I’m sure more than one foreigner visiting Japan has shared:

“I almost wish that the rooms were a little less exquisite, for I am in constant dread of spilling the ink, indenting the mats, or tearing the paper windows.” – Isabella Bird in “Unbeaten tracks in Japan” describing her room.

The Kanaya Hotel History House is now a museum and is located next to Cottage Inn Restaurant & Bakery.
The Kanaya Hotel History House is now a museum and is located next to Cottage Inn Restaurant & Bakery.

It’s worth noting that Bird did not stay at the current building that houses the Kanaya Hotel, but at the The Cottage Inn. This was a traditional Japanese house and the origin of the Kanaya Hotel, popularly known by the travelers of the time as “The Samurai House”. Today it’s a museum that remains open to general visitors as Kanaya Hotel History House.

With the opening of Japan to the world during the Meiji period, the number of foreigners in Japan increased rapidly and Nikko became the preferred location for foreign dignitaries and expats. Naturally, the Kanaya Hotel became the go-to place among the foreign community and quickly gained prestige. The Kanaya Hotel became the home away from home for distinguished figures such as the Prince Arthur of Connaught from England, American author Helen Keller and even the scientist Albert Einstein.

Art and history in every corner

As I walk through the red-carpeted hallways and up lavish staircases, stopping here and there to look at the black-and-white pictures of all the distinguished guests, I can’t help but imagine their ghostly silhouettes floating back and forth through the same hallways.

kanaya-hotel-stair

The hallways of the Kanaya Hotel are filled with commemorative pictures and exhibits from guests that have visited the hotel.
The hallways of the Kanaya Hotel are filled with commemorative pictures and exhibits from guests that have visited the hotel.

On every corner of the hotel I discover a work of art with a unique story, from lamps dating back to the Meiji period and century-old encyclopedias, to antique tableware and elaborate mirrors. Perhaps my favorite piece is the fireplace made out of Oya stone found inside the hotel bar. It’s rumored to have been designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, the architect of the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, which also prominently features Oya stone. I couldn’t help to picture myself in front of the fireplace with a scotch on the rocks in hand and a a good book in the other.

The Bar “Dacite” is named after the scientific name for Oya stone.
The Bar “Dacite” is named after the scientific name for Oya stone.

After roaming through what felt like decades of history, I finally get to see the room where I’ll stay the night. At first sight, I’m comforted by the warm, elegant feel, but I soon notice the elements that make this hotel unique. The ceilings have Japanese frames reminiscent of tatami rooms, the designs of the windows with their sliding doors, and interestingly a steam heater, which are a rare sight in Japan.

kanaya-hotel-room

After some time relaxing in my room, enjoying the cozy warmth of the steam heater, I hear a chime. I look at my clock and realize it’s 6 pm. I later learn that announcing dinner time with a chime is an old tradition at the Kanaya Hotel. Back in the day, a gong was used to announce the meal times. I head over to the dinning hall, and marvel at the intricate decorations and grow with anticipation at the thought of what will surely be an unforgettable meal.

The dining hall’s column capitals  are adorned with more original woodcarvings by renowned local artists and even antique tableware is exhibited here.
The dining hall’s column capitals are adorned with more original woodcarvings by renowned local artists and even antique tableware is exhibited here.

Local delicacies with a French twist

I taste a delicious trout with steamed vegetables, which evoke French cuisine, but with a local touch. The Kanaya Hotel is renowned for its unique Western cuisine and even non-guests come all the way here to enjoy a luxurious dinner.

fish-meal

entree
desserts

The next morning, after a refreshing bath and a delicious omelet in the dining hall, I keep exploring the hotel before heading out to town. Despite the fact that most visitors come to Nikko during summer to escape the heat, I find that Nikko is especially charming during winter. I head to the roof where I find an old ice-skating rink and an outdoor pool. There is also a viewing platform with the epic name: “The palace of the Dragon King”, which offers breathtaking views of Nikko and its snow-covered mountains.

view-from-the-top-of-kanaya-hotel

A city trapped in another time

Having visited Nikko and its magnificent Toshogu Shrine in the past, this time I decided to focus on the city itself, simply strolling through its streets and exploring other historical buildings. Perhaps, still under the spell of the Kanaya Hotel, I start to find Nikko-bori everywhere I go and I keep returning to the beginning of the Showa era with the countless curio shops and art galleries.

niko-streets

curious-shops

NIKKO BUSSAN SHOUKAI deserves special mention. It’s a historical building filled with a wealth of Nikko-bori treasures that doubles as a souvenir shop and a restaurant serving local specialties.

souvenir-shop

nikkobori-art
souvenir-shop-interior

After encountering so many Nikko-bori throughout my trip, I decide to try my hand at carving my own at Murakami Toyohachi Shoten carrying countless masterpieces. The results I’m afraid, are quite disappointing.

fish-drawing
carving-fish

I declare my try a failed attempt and instead settle on simply admiring the amazing creations of Nikko artisans displayed in the shop, painstakingly carved mostly from cedar, into beautiful plates, drawers, jewelry boxes, mirrors and more.

nikkobori-art-store

After spending the night at the Kanaya Hotel and strolling the streets of Nikko, I realized the histories of the hotel and the city are inseparably intertwined. Both the city and the hotel seem to desperately try to bring you back to a bygone era of a unique kind of refinement that was born from a clash of cultures.

The Kanaya Hotel
https://www.kanayahotel.co.jp/eng/

Matsumoto Castle: One of the best preserved castles

Matsumoto Castle
Matsumoto Castle

You can’t leave Nagano without visiting Matsumoto Castle! This black and white, six-story castle is a magnificent site with the Japanese Alps in the background. Being one of the oldest castles in Japan–built in the 16th century–it has survived the Age of Warring States, Meiji Period (when castles were ordered to be destroyed), and time.

matsumoto-castle-from-afar
matsumoto-castle-entrance
matsumoto-caste-interior

With the help of an English-speaking tour guide, you can enjoy an exploration of the castle that is so well-preserved. You might think that the ruler lived in the castle, but did you know that they had their own residents in the courtyard? The castle was a mere symbol of strength and only when attacked would the ruler move into the castle to defend it from being burnt down by the enemies.

Hours: 8:30am – 5pm (last entry at 4:30pm)
Access: 10-min ride on the Matsumoto Tour Bus “Town Sneaker”
URL: http://www.matsumoto-castle.jp/lang/

Koshu Yume Kouji: Perfect gift shopping destination

Koshu-Yume-Kouji

Just a quick walk from the Kofu station is a reproduction of the jokamachi (castle town) from the Meiji (1868–1912), Taisho (1912-1926) and the beginning of Showa period (1926). While you may think that the buildings consititue a museum, it’s actually a place where you can find souvenirs showcasing Yamanashi’s great produce and local businesses. From cute boutiques stores to shops selling wine, grapes and other treats, it is a very charming shopping area that gives you a taste of Kofu’s historical townscape.

streets-near-koshu-yume-kouji

historical-building-koshu-yume-
building-by-night

Access: a minute walk from Kofu Station North Exit
URL: http://koshuyumekouji.com/en/

Takeda Shingen: Based in the Mountainous Fortress

takeda-shingen-statue

Located in front of the Kofu train station, you can’t miss the magnificent warrior statue! As though overlooking the well-being of the Kofu City, he seemed to be like a fatherly figure for locals. Tour guides lite up with pride when talking about Yamanashi’s local hero. It was Lord Takeda Shingen, one of the most respected military leaders in Japan and a general of Kai Province (Yamanashi today) during the Warring States period (1467–1603). Known for his tactical skills, he is also famous for the criminal and civil code he put into place, which some say Tokugawa Ieyasu referenced for the base of his government when unifying Japan under one rule. Though Lord Takeda did not rule over a large part of Japan, the mountain ranges encompassing his territory gave him a strong fortress.

takeda-shrine-board
takeda-shrine-outside

There are many kinds of shrines throughout Japan, but few of them are dedicated to a leader who has passed on over 300 years ago! Built on the original grounds of the home his father built, which three generations of Takeda clan ruled over for 63 years, you can still see remains of the original outer structures as you stroll through Takeda Shrine. During late March and early April, you can enjoy a thousand cherry blossom trees that line the main road leading from Kofu Station up to the shrine (about a 30-minute walk). It was truly a beloved leader who lives on in the spirit of the locals.

wall-kofu-city
takeda-shrine-torii
Takeda Shrine
Address: 2611, Kofuchu-machi, Kofu-shi
Access: 8-min bus ride from Kofu Station

Lumiere Winery WITH Restaurant Zelkova: Established in 1885

wine-town-yamanashi

winsery-from-yamanashi
While in the land of grapes, you have to pay a visit to Lumiere, a family-owned winery established in 1885. Not only do they provide English tours of their vineyard and facilities, but you can do wine tasting at the winery shop where there are products from around the prefecture. You can enjoy a variety of wines over a meal of fine French cuisine with a Japanese twist using local ingredients, giving you a full Yamanashi pallet experience.
wine-tasting
wine-barrels-in-yamanashi
vineyards-lumiere
Hours: Restaurant: 11:30am – 2pm (lunch), 5:30pm – 8pm (dinner)
Closed: Mon & Tue (Jan-Mar), Tue (Apr-Aug & Dec)
Address: 624 Minami-noro, Fuefuki-shi, Yamanashi
Access: 15 min by taxi from Yamanashi-shi Station
URL: http://www.lumiere.jp/en/

Fuefuki city: The Fruit Kingdom

grape-picking-in-yamanashi

With the ocean breeze blocked by the mountains, Yamanashi Prefecture is blessed with more sunny days. Combined with rich soil and abundance of clean water, the prefecture is known for its delicious produce.
Among the most famous are grapes and peaches. To get a juicy sample, head to Fuefuki City, which is known to produce the most grapes and peaches in Japan.

grapes-in-fuefukishi
peaches-in-Yamanashi

The city is also known for their wine and onsen, making it a perfect destination to unwind. At Miharashien, you can indulge in a 40-minute all-you-can-eat fruit picking session while surrounded by a beautiful view overlooking local farms with the mountain range in the background. In the spring, the whole area turns into an ocean of pink as the peach and cherry blossoms bloom simultaneously.

fuefukishi-landscape

If visiting in mid-October, you can make it just in time for the latter grape season. Hunching down in search of the perfect cluster of grapes, you’ll be able to enjoy different types of grapes that you have never eaten before–each having their unique signature flavor.

Hours: 8 am to 5 pm
Access: 15-min car ride from JR Isawa-Onsen Station
Address: 240 Ichinomiyacho-Tsuchizuka, Fuefuki-shi, Yamanashi

Shosenkyo Gorge: Complete immersion with nature

shousenkyou-2

Just outside Kofu City is the Shosenkyo Gorge, which is said to be the most beautiful gorge in Japan. As you walk along the hiking pathway (built during the Edo Period), you can’t help but marvel at mother nature’s power to have created such a sanctuary as the Arakawa River rushes through the narrow valley with many large, granite formations that come in interesting shapes.

 Kakuenpo: highest cliff where it is said that the monk Kakuen meditated on.

Kakuenpo: highest cliff where it is said that the monk Kakuen meditated on.

Based on how much you want to walk, you can either take the two and half mile course from the Nagatoro Bridge at the entrance of the gorge or the half mile course from the Greenline Shosenkyo bus stop. Once at the end of the trail, there are several stores selling crystals processed from the area.

shousenkyo-gorge-gondola
shosenkyo-gorge-in-autumn-and-bridge

Make sure to head on over to the Shosenkyo Ropeway, which takes you to the Panoramadai Station at the top of Mt. Rakanji-yama. Once at the top, a beautiful shot of Mt. Fuji and the Southern Alps awaits you!

Access: 20-min drive from Kofu Station
URL: http://www.shosenkyo-kankoukyokai.com/en/

Kitaguchi Hongu Fuji Sengen-jinja Shrine: Shrine Fit for Mt. Fuji

kitaguchi-hongu-fuji-segenjinja-shrine

Today, people head to Fuji Subaru Line 5th Station, but originally pilgrims started their hike from Kitaguchi Hongu Fuji Sengen-jinja Shrine, where the goddess of Mt. Fuji is worshipped. When traveling in Japan, you will come across many temples and shrines, but this can easily become your favorite! Walking up the peaceful path lined with enormous cryptomeria trees and moss-covered lanterns, you feel as though you have stepped into a different realm. In contrast to the surrounding deep forest, the large, red torii gate and the intricately carved shrine is stunning.

kitaguchi-hongu-fuji-sengenjinja-shrine-interior
kitaguchi-hongo-main-shrine
dragon-fountain-at-shrine
Address: 3-14-8 Kamiyoshida, Fujiyoshida City
Access: 15-min walk from Fujisan Station
URL: http://sengenjinja.jp/english/index.html

Nakamachi Street: Untouched by time

nakamachi-street

Walking along this street you will feel like stepping into a different era! The black and white buildings known as namako-kabe storehouses, clay walls lined with tiles that are plastered, were built to protect the town after a large fire in 1888 that burnt down many buildings in the area.

nakamachi-street-facades

Here you’ll find traditional handcraft shops, cute cafes, restaurants serving local specialties, a museum and wells with clean, natural groundwater that anyone can drink from. This street beautifully illustrated the community spirit of Matsumoto, which culturally thrives from the rich natural environment surrounding it.

water-in-matsumoto-city
historical-facade-nakamachi-street


URL: http://nakamachi-street.com/en/

The Holy Waters of Oshino Hakkai

oshinohakkai

Before the pilgrimage, many would stop to wash themselves in water sources fed from Mt. Fuji. One such spot was Oshino Hakkai Spring, where there are eight ponds fed by the snow melted from Mt. Fuji that filtered down eventually resurfacing 80 years later.

oshino-hakkai
oshino-hakkai-transparent-waters
oshino-hakkai-transparent-waters-far

As a result, the humanly-unaltered water is so transparent that you can see every detail. Regarded as sacred, its beauty is truly mesmerizing. With the area designed to look like a traditional Japanese village and the iconic mountain in the background, you will feel like you are stepping into the shoes of a pilgrim.

Hours: 9am – 5pm
Admission: 300 yen
Address: Shibokusa, Oshino-mura, Minami-tsuru-gun
Access: 15-min bus ride from Fujisan Station on the Fujikyuko Line, get off at Oshino Hakkai Stop

Setsubun and mamemaki: where to go to chase the demons out

soybeans for mamemaki 1
If you find yourself confused as to why suddenly local supermarkets and convenience stores are stocking up on baked soy beans and showcasing them along with some demonic creatures, don’t be, there is a whole tradition connected to it. February 3rd is Setsubun, a traditional festival marking the end of Winter and the first day of Spring according to the old lunar calendar. At this crossroads of seasons it is believed that evil spirits or “oni” roam around, so people have to throw roasted soybeans at an imaginary oni or someone wearing an oni mask while you shout “Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!” meaning “Demons out! Luck in!” to usher in the good luck.

bean-throwing ritual

soybeans for mamemaki

Among the setsubun activities that you cannot miss is to eat eho-maki, the most representative setsubun food. Eho-maki is a big sushi roll meant to be eaten whole and in silence while you are thinking of a wish and facing a lucky direction. Every year a different direction is believed to be auspicious and this year it is south-south-east. You should also eat the soybeans, but not all of them, rather the same number of beans as your age so that you have a good health during the year. This is all meant to bring good fortune and chase out the evil spirits lurking around. Of course, you can buy everything you need and do it at home, but you can also go and experience the tradition firsthand in any local shrine or temple. Just have in mind that the more well-known the place, the bigger the crowds.

eho maki and setsubun candy

Below, we introduce a couple of popular and interesting places to experience Setsubun in the Tokyo area.

1. Setsubun festival 2018 in Tokyo Tower – combined experiences

By attending the Setsubun Spiritual Cleansing Ritual and Mamemaki inside the Main Observatory of Tokyo Tower you will surely make the most of your day. Along with enjoying the view and visiting Tokyo Tower, you can experience this traditional ritual performed by priests from the nearby Zozoji temple, starting around 10:45 am and ending around 11 am. If by any chance you miss it or opt for Zojoji temple instead, the ritual there is held from 12 am to 1 pm the same day. Tokyo Tower will also offer sales of 333 Ehomaki rolls (¥1,000 tax included, comes with tea) to be eaten for good fortune. Participating in these rituals won’t cost you a thing, you only need to pay for the usual admission ticket for the main observatory at 150 meters height. So why don’t you enjoy Setsubun on top of Tokyo?

Tokyo tower and Zojoji temple collage

Address:4 Chome-2-8 Shibakōen, Minato-ku, Tokyo-to
Admission: for Main Observatory for adults 900 yen, junior high school students and primary school pupils: 500 yen, children 4 years old and over400 yen

2. Sensou-ji in Asakusa

Another great place to experience Setsubun is Sensou-ji in Asakusa. You can spend the rest of your day sightseeing in this Tokyo hotspot of culture and history and participate in the Setsubun rituals in one of the oldest temples in Tokyo. In Sensou-ji they don’t tell the demons to get out, they only tell luck to get in. That’s because they believe that the temple is already clean of demons. Here, you can see the dance of the Seven Lucky Gods from 2:30 pm and then see celebrities and athletes throwing not only soybeans but also candy and various prizes to the crowd from 4:00 pm. The sacred rituals are scheduled from 11:30 am and 1:30 pm followed by bean-throwing at 2 pm and 4 pm respectively.
To have a glimpse of the atmosphere, take a look at a video of last year’s Setsubun in Sensou-ji shared on social media.


A post shared by NACHU (@nachudesu1223) on

Address: 2 Chome-3-1 Asakusa, Taito-ku, Tokyo-to

3. Naritasan Shinjoji temple in Chiba

This is a beautiful temple and a sightseeing spot in its own right. On the 3rd of February it will hold three bean-throwing ceremonies: 11 am, 1:30 pm, and 4 pm, each lasting for about 5 minutes. At this temple they don’t say ”Demon out” either, only “Luck in!” because it is believed that this temple’s deity is so merciful that it wants to give even demons a chance to repent and reform.

Shinshoji temple Chiba

Address:Chiba Prefecture, Narita, 1

4. Gojoten shrine in Ueno

This shrine is definitely not as big and famous as the ones mentioned before, but we recommend visiting it on Setsubun for its rare ceremony. In Gojoten shrine located in Ueno there is a ritual named Ukera-no-shinji (うけらの神事) and it is actually a short drama performance, a custom remaining from old times. This year the event will start at 3 pm and will be followed by a bean-throwing ceremony. Also unique to this temple, following the drama performance, is buying special ukera-mochi, which is mochi, a rice cake made out of sticky rice, mixed with the plant okera or ukera as an older form of the same word.


A post shared by えりな (@eeeerinaaa) on

Address: Tokyo-to, Taito-ku, Uenokoen, 4−17

5. Shimokitazawa parade – Setsubun on the streets

For something different try experiencing Setsubun in Shimokitazawa and their famous Tengu Parade. It starts at Shinryuji temple at 2 pm and then spills through the Shimokitazawa shopping streets enveloping the whole neighborhood with its atmosphere. Tengu are long-nosed demons from Japanese mythology so people participating in the parade wear Tengu masks. The parade will be back at the temple to do some more bean-throwing at 4 pm. Unlike the other Setsubu events, this one starts a day before, on the 2nd of February at 8 pm in the evening at the north exit of Shimokitazawa station. The main parade is the next day.

Shimokitazawa tengu matsuri 1

Shimokitazawa tengu matsuri 2

Address: 2 Chome-36-15 Kitazawa, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo-to

Shimokitazawa being the bustling youth neighborhood that it is, we suggest you stick around and enjoy its atmosphere some more by ending the night drinking at some izakaya or Japanese pub. You chased the demons out, you deserve it!

oni mask


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

Zoria April
Zoria is a writer, of the rare poet variety and a passionate photographer. If you see somebody around Tokyo taking photos of concrete walls, it must be her. She loves to dress fashionably and go drink as many cups of coffee as humanly possible, preferably in cafes with a view.

MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

Ninja ID: zoria