February in Japan: Seasonal Customs, Traditions and Festivities

February in Japan: Seasonal Customs, Traditions and Festivities

Japan is renowned for its vivid four-season cycle, each bringing its own array of traditional events, holidays, and culinary delights. The Japanese culture places a high value on seasonal change, particularly in its cuisine, emphasizing dishes crafted from fresh, seasonal ingredients. To truly immerse yourself in a visit to Japan, understanding and experiencing the key festivals, customs, and seasonal foods each month offers is essential. In this feature, we explore the enduring customs and traditions that come to life in February.

Traditional Festivals

February is also known as Umemidzuki (梅見月), or Plum Viewing Month, and Hatsuhanadzuki (初花月), meaning the Month of the First Blooming Flowers. These terms intimately link the month to the floral spectacle that unfolds. Umemidzuki celebrates the tradition of admiring plum blossoms, which reach their peak towards February's end. Hatsuhanadzuki heralds the arrival of the season's inaugural blossoms. As the plum flowers unfurl in all their glory, anticipation for spring's full arrival fills the air, making February a month of sublime natural beauty and eager expectation.

Setsubun, Last Day of Winter (February 3)

微信图片_20240110082658.jpgSetsubun, meaning the division of seasons, signifies the end of winter and the coming of spring. The main activity is mame-maki (bean throwing). People scatter soybeans to ward off evil spirits and bring good fortune, chanting "Demons out, luck in" to invite good luck for the new year. This lively event is held at shrines and temples across Japan, suitable for both adults and children to participate in!

Additionally, consuming bean soup and eating sushi rolls are essential customs of the day. Ehomaki, a type of sushi roll, is sold everywhere. It is said that eating the entire roll in silence while facing the lucky direction of the year can bring health and good fortune throughout the year!

Risshun, First Day of Spring (February 4)

spring-word-flower-petals.jpgRisshun, marking the onset of spring, is celebrated on February 3rd or 4th in Japan. While the lunar calendar has faded from daily use, traditional solar terms that signal seasonal shifts remain deeply ingrained in Japanese culture. Japan, a land of vivid seasonal contrasts, reveres these transitions, with ordinary calendars often highlighting key moments like Risshun (the beginning of spring) and Ritto (the beginning of winter). Coinciding with Risshun, many regions in Japan are swept by Haru Ichiban (春一番) or the first spring wind. These southerly gusts may be vigorous, yet they herald the warmer embrace of the approaching spring.  

National Foundation Day (February 11)

tokyo-cityscape-skyline.jpgNational Foundation Day in Japan, as the name suggests, commemorates the founding of the nation and the ascension of its first Emperor, Emperor Jimmu.

On this day, various celebration activities are held throughout Japan, with Tokyo hosting particularly lively events, including grand parades and cultural performances. These events often incorporate rich elements of Japanese culture, showcasing Japan's long history and unique traditions. Those interested can join in these festivities to experience the local enthusiasm for their country and their hopes for peace and prosperity.

Valentine's Day (February 14)

WechatIMG13.jpegOn Valentine's Day in Japan, women traditionally express their affection towards someone they fancy by giving chocolates or other gifts. The recipient is expected to return the favor with a gift on White Day, March 14th, as a romantic gesture. If you receive chocolates from friends or colleagues on this day, don't be too surprised; these are known as "giri-choco," a token of friendship or gratitude, not necessarily love. Even without romantic feelings, you can still enjoy the sweetness of chocolate!

Additionally, major chocolate brands and confectioners release new products and limited editions during this period. Chocolate lovers can take advantage of this time from February to Valentine's Day to indulge their sweet tooth!

Quirky Days

Niku-no-Hi, Meat Day (February 9)

The dates with 2 and 9 in February, such as February 9th and the 29th, hold a special significance in supermarkets and butcher shops for conducting promotional activities. This tradition stems from a playful linguistic twist: in Japanese, the pronunciation of "meat" bears a resemblance to the numbers 2 and 9, giving February 9th the affectionate moniker of "Meat Day." This pun not only endears itself to the culture but also offers a delightful pretext for indulging in meat dishes.

Similarly, February 22nd is celebrated as Cat Day, among other whimsical observances. Japan's calendar is dotted with such charming and quirky celebrations, making the exploration of these unique customs an enjoyable discovery.


Seasonal Ingredients

elevated-view-brussels-sprouts-net-chequered-pattern-textile.jpgIn February, even though food is gradually becoming less seasonally restricted, eating according to the natural growing cycles of ingredients is still the best way to align with nature's rhythm. Seasonal foods offer the most effortlessly delicious and exquisite tastes. In February, don't miss the chance to try the following ingredients, especially many wild vegetables that can only be found during this time.

・Seafood: Pacific cod (tara, 鱈), blowfish (fugu, 河豚), goby (haze, 鯊), Spanish mackerel (sawara, 鰆), spear squid (yariika, 槍烏賊), Japanese smelt (wakasagi, 公魚), sardine (iwashi, 鰯) 

・Fruits and Vegetables: Japanese mustard spinach (komatsuna, 小松菜), rapeseed (nabana, 菜花), Brussel sprouts (mekyabetsu, 芽キャベツ), fukinotou, edible flower bud of the fuki plant (蕗の薹), lily root (yuri-no-ne, 百合の根)

 These ingredients are at their peak during February, offering a chance to enjoy the true flavors of the season.

Recommended Places to Visit

Plum Blossoms


When it comes to February, one cannot overlook the plum blossoms! It's the season when plum blossoms are in full bloom. The delicate fragrance of plum blossoms against the backdrop of snow creates a tranquil winter scene. You can visit parks, temples, and historic landmarks to enjoy the plum blossoms. Here are a few recommended spots for plum blossom viewing:

・Kyoto - Kitano Tenmangu (北野天滿宮): Kitano Tenmangu Shrine is one of the oldest shrines in Kyoto, and its plum garden is breathtakingly beautiful in February. With thousands of plum trees blooming, the fragrance fills the air, making it an ideal place for plum blossom viewing.

・Tokyo - Ueno Park (上野恩賜公園): Within Ueno Park, there is an area known as "Ume Grove," which is one of Tokyo's most famous spots for viewing plum blossoms. The plum blossoms come in a variety of colors, and the park features arch bridges and ponds, adding to the serene beauty.

・Osaka - Osaka Castle Park (大阪城公園): Osaka Castle Park has a large area of plum trees, and a "Plum Blossom Festival" is held every February, attracting tourists and local residents alike.

In addition, the plum blossoms at the Kobe Hyogo Prefectural Plum Blossom Garden and Nara's Kasuga Taisha Shrine are also incredibly beautiful. Those wishing to enjoy the plum blossoms and the spring atmosphere should definitely check them out!

Mt. Fuji and Snow


February is an excellent time to view Mount Fuji due to the clear, sunny weather, which provides high visibility and exceptionally clear views. The winter season cloaks Mount Fuji in pristine white snow. Consider planning different ways to encounter Mount Fuji! Enjoying a hot spring while admiring Mount Fuji in the cold winter, or watching winter fireworks by Lake Kawaguchi at the foot of Mount Fuji, can be incredibly memorable. Additionally, there are numerous attractions around Mount Fuji for an enjoyable visit, such as:

Lake Kawaguchi (Free): Enjoy the beautiful reflection of Mt. Fuji on the lake's surface.

Oshino Hakkai (Free): Consists of eight clear ponds in a scenic setting. Click here for more information.

Fuji-Q Highland: Experience thrilling roller coasters with a magnificent view of Mt. Fuji.

・Fuji 5th Station (Free): A midway point on Mt. Fuji, offering an excellent spot for capturing winter scenes of the mountain (weather permitting).

Arakura Fuji Sengen Jinja Shrine (Free): An ancient shrine with stunning views of Mt. Fuji. Click here for more information.

With all these spots set against a winter fairy-tale backdrop, you'll witness the unique charm only present in winter. If you love snow, you're likely to adore winter at Mount Fuji!

Snow Festivals and Gorgeous Ice Sculptures


February is the climax of snow festivals in Japan, especially the Sapporo Snow Festival, renowned for its snow and ice sculptures ranging from enormous castles to creatively designed figures, attracting tourists from all over the world. Hokkaido hosts many other splendid winter activities this month, such as the Asahikawa Winter Festival, Lake Toya Winter Fireworks, Shikotsuko Ice Festival, and the Snow Light Pathway, among others. For a complete guide, you can click here for more information!

Through the introduction above, we hope to inform those planning to travel to Japan in February about the cultural customs of this period, the best foods to try, and how to make the most of their visit!

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