New Years In Japan
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The San-ga-nichi or "three days" of the New Year, is one of the most important Japanese festivals. The beginning of the New Year is the best time to make sure that good luck and happiness will follow in the days to come. Ancient rituals were designed to make this happen and many of these continue to be practiced today. There is a thorough cleaning performed in the home and all things are put into order. Throwing dried peas and beans from the open windows or paper slides (shoji) is believed to chase away evil spirits. Houses and gateposts are decorated with straw ropes which are often made to represent lucky Chinese numbers like three, five and seven. Pine tree branches are a very important decoration. They symbolize long life. When the festival is over, they are burned, but the meaning of this has long ago been lost. Sometimes there are festivals for the burning of these pine branches. The food used in the celebration includes lobsters (their bent and ancient appearance signifies long life), oranges, edible seaweeds, and mirror cakes (associated with the Sun Goddess). According to tradition, it is considered unlucky to cook during this period, so often there is a lot of cooking just before the new years, in order to prepare.
Shinnen-Aisatsu (New Year's Greetings) January 3-7
Shinnen-Aisatsu is the event where all Maiko and Geiko in Gion (and possibly Tokyo, also) go in their finery to visit all the community and thank them for their support in the past and their continuing support in the future. During this time period all Maiko and Geiko are wearing formal black hikizuri, and rice-ear kanzashi for New Years with a single ume blossom and a tiny dove.
Shigyoshiki 2012 (New Year's Opening Ceremony) January 7
Shigyoshiki is the annual (traditional) opening ceremony in Kyoto that marks the start of another year for Kyoto's Geiko and Maiko. During this time there is an awards ceremony at the local theater and the new business year starts. Maiko and geisha assemble together and promise to do all they can in the coming year to improve their performance skills, renewing their dedication to the traditional arts. Taking formal vows together is an integral part of Japanese life.
2-4 February: Japanese families (and the Maiko and Geiko of Gion) celebrate this festival by tossing beans out the windows to keep evil spirits outside (soto) and invite good fortune inside (uchi). The maiko and geisha celebrate by entertaining in bizarre costumes. This is like a carnival time for Japan. Cross-dressing, alcohol, big parties in ozashiki are all very common during this period.
Baikasai (梅花祭) February (TBD at the height of the Plum Tree Blossoms)
Baikasai is a festival held at Kitano Tenmangu Shrine, famous for its plum blossoms, held annually on 25 February. Prayers for the enshrined deity 'Sugawara Michizane' and an ‘Open Air Tea Ceremony’ by the Maiko and Geiko of Kamishichiken hanamachi are held on this day.
July 1-August 31, Kamishichiken Beer Garden:
this is an outdoor beer garden and an informal event. It is open to all who wish to attend and is a great opportunity to mix and visit with other maiko and geisha - who also dress informally for this event.
Hassaku is a very important event in Gion which takes place in mid-summer. On August 1st, robed in the most formal sheer black kimono and full makeup, maiko and geiko visit the teahouses, teachers, senior geiko and establishments they depend upon to express their gratitude for their support and beg their favor in the future.
Kaomise – December
In Kyoto, there were seven Kabuki stages in the 17th century but only the Minami-za Theater remains to this day.
Kaomise is literally the "Face-showing" ceremony of a theater to celebrate the opening a new season and its new troupe during the Edo Period. At Minami-za it is held in December. All the Geiko and Maiko attend.