Posted: 20th April 2023
Welcome to the latest post in this series about Japanese cultural events, traditions and more throughout different months of the year!
Things have been pretty busy of late, so I've been a bit sneaky and decided to put two months together this time: March and April.
While there's certainly enough that could be said about each of these months separately, there's also something to be said for addressing them at the same time, as they are both key months in the season of spring in Japan.
As mentioned back in my post about February in Japan, Japanese spring traditionally starts on the 3rd or 4th of February in the Gregorian calendar. Similarly, the traditional start of summer (i.e. end of spring) is on the 5th of May or thereabouts. However, a quick online search shows that many people now consider both of these seasons to fall a bit later in the year, with May typically considered part of spring too.
If you're curious to find out more about Japan's traditional seasons, you can click here to view a breakdown of the 二十四節気 (nijuushi sekki - 24 divisions of the solar year) - or here to view similar info in English.
So: let's get going and start finding out some fun facts about March and April in Japan. Here are some links in case you'd like to skip ahead to any particular part of the article:
- The Japanese Word for March
- The Japanese Word for April
- ① The 3rd of March is 雛祭り (Hina-matsuri)
- ② You Can Follow the Cherry Blossom Forecast Online
- ③ The End of April May Not Be the Best Time to Visit Japan
Note: none of the links in this post are affiliated, which means I don't make money when you click them.
The Japanese Word for March
Where better to start but by checking we know the Japanese word for March? (We'll do April in a moment.)
The most common Japanese word for March is 三月 (san gatsu), also written as 3月. This follows the normal pattern of giving each month a number (1月、2月、3月 etc).
However, did you know there's another word for March?
Japan has only followed the Gregorian calendar since 1873, and as such, you may still occasionally come across older names of the months. For March, this is 弥生 (yayoi), "the month of renewed growth of plants".
The Japanese Word for April
As with March (and all other months), the most common Japanese word for April is a numerical one: 四月 (shi gatsu), which can also be written as 4月。This is one that often trips learners up: it's し (shi) not よ (yo) or よん (yon) - two other possible readings of the number four.
So how about the traditional name for April?
This is 卯月 (uzuki), meaning "the month when the deutzia blooms".
If you're interested in learning more about the (quite detailed and fascinating!) Japanese calendar, I recommend this nippon.com page as a place to start.
Now that we're all clued up, let's have a look at three fun facts about March and April in Japan.
1. The 3rd of March is 雛祭り (Hina-matsuri)
If you visit Japan in late February or early March, you might spot traditional doll figurines being sold in places like department stores. This is because the 3rd of March is 雛祭り (hina-matsuri): Doll's Day or Girls' Day.
Technically one of five seasonal festivals traditionally held each year by the Japanese imperial court, 雛祭り (hina-matsuri) is a Shintō holiday formerly known as 桃の節句 (momo no sekku: Peach Festival) due to the time of year at which it was held.
As 雛祭り (hina-matsuri) is an occasion to celebrate and pray for the health and happiness of daughters, not everyone in Japan will mark this special day. However, families with daughters may display 雛人形 (hina ningyō: hina dolls). These dolls represent the imperial family and sit atop a red tiered platform resembling a mini staircase. As the dolls and the platform can be very expensive, families who have not inherited them may buy a smaller set rather than the full seven-tiered option.
You can see an example of what these platforms look like in this video by Comprehensible Japanese:
雛祭り (hina-matsuri) has many more traditions associated with it, such as particular foods and drinks. If you're curious to find out more about these, I encourage you to check out the links below or, if you know some Japanese, have a look at one of these posts by Meika-sensei:
*I would describe Meika-sensei's Beginners posts as being for upper elementary learners. If you're very new to Japanese, don't worry if you find them pretty tough (or impossible!).
Wondering what other children get up to during 雛祭り (hina-matsuri)? While this specific day is intended for girls only, there is another day that comes around in on the 5th of May: 子供の日 (kodomo no hi): Children's Day.
Find out more about 雛祭り (hina-matsuri):
2. You Can Follow the Cherry Blossom Forecast Online
If you know just one thing about spring in Japan, it's probably that it's the perfect time to see gorgeous 桜 (sakura - cherry blossoms) blooming up and down the country!
What you may not know, however, is that it's possible to track the best spots and timings for 花見 (hanami - cherry blossom viewing) using sites such as this handy さくら開花予想 - Cherry Blossom Forecast.
With the help of this map, you can track exactly when 桜 (sakura) are expected to start blooming (開花 - kaika) or be in full bloom (満開 - mankai). Even if you don't know how to read Japanese, I encourage you to play around with this map. By clicking on different areas, you can get more detailed info. You can also scroll down for a Google Maps portal showing the exact location of the trees on which these estimates are based.
While spring can be an expensive time to visit Japan, if you ever get the chance to pick this time of year for your trip, I can't recommend it enough!
If you know a bit of Japanese (or are just curious), check out the following video by 日本語の森 (Nihongo no mori) to get an idea of what a Japanese 花見 (hanami) outing might be like.
3. The End of April May Not Be the Best Time to Visit Japan
If you've ever looked into visiting Japan at this time of year, I'm guessing you might know exactly what I'm talking about.
That's right: Golden Week (ゴールデンウィーク - gōruden wiiku)!
Golden Week is a string of public holidays in Japan that makes up what is known as an 大型連休 (ōgata renkyuu): long holiday. These holidays are:
- 昭和の日 (Shōwa no hi - Shōwa Day), 29th April
- 憲法記念日 (Kenpō no hi - Constitution Memorial Day), 3rd May
- みどりの日 (Midori no hi - Greenery Day), 4th May
- 子どもの日 (Kodomo no hi - Children's Day), 5th May
Depending on when each of these holidays falls, for people working in Japan, they can amount to a rare opportunity to take a week or more off to embark on a holiday either within Japan or overseas. Indeed, many blogs and websites - such as this one - post tips on how to maximise your time off during Golden Week. In 2023, for example, many workers are able to take a full nine consecutive days off by using up two days of annual leave on the 1st and 2nd of May.
Although Japan is generally not the best when it comes to giving employees time off, public holidays are enshrined in law. There's even a law that means that any public holiday that lands on a Sunday must be carried over to the following Monday as a 振替休日 (furikae kyuujitsu - compensation/make-up holiday).
Personally, I've experienced some bad luck when it comes to the timing of public holidays, as when I was working in Osaka, several of them fell on Saturdays, meaning no 振替休日 (furikae kyuujitsu - compensation/make-up holiday)! Like many new employees at Japanese companies, I also only had the legal minimum of 10 days of annual leave on top of public holidays. All the more reason to make the most of what you can get!
So: how do Japanese people spend Golden Week? As mentioned, many take the chance to travel. Domestically within Japan, popular spots include Tokyo Disneyland and Universal Studios Japan (Osaka), while more rural destinations such as Hokkaido or onsen resorts are also busy at this time of year. You can read more about popular Golden Week destinations in 2023 in this article by Unseen Japan.
Finally, if you're in Japan around this time of year, you're likely to spot 鯉のぼり (koinobori: carp streamers). These are carp-shaped windsocks traditionally flown to celebrate 子供の日 (kodomo no hi - Children's Day) on the 5th of May. Click here for a resources page by the Japan Society including a guide on how to make your own 鯉のぼり (koinobori).
Here is a video about Golden Week, 子供の日 (kodomo no hi) and 鯉のぼり (koinobori) also made by the Japan Society:
If you do have plans to travel in Japan in late April or early May, be sure to do your research! There are plenty of articles out there such as this one by Japan Rail Pass that can help you make the most of your visit without getting too held up by the crowds.
You've reached the end of this post! I hope you enjoyed it.
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