Explaining Japanese festivals and celebrations

Choose a festival/ celebration from below. Explain it in as much detail as you can so that a foreign person who doesn’t know much about your country would understand. Your partner will just listen. When you finish, your partner will add anything that you missed, add more details, correct anything that you said wrong and/ or ask questions. You can also ask them to do that with questions like “Did I miss anything?”/ “Is there anything else I should say?” Switch roles and do the same with other things below until your teacher stops you.

Japanese festivals and celebrations to explain

bounenkai

enkai

“Golden Week”

hanami

hatsumode

hina matsuri

Japanese Christmas

Japanese New Year

Japanese Valentine’s Day/ “White Day”

Japanese-style wedding

kodomo-no-hi

natsu matsuri

nomikai

nyugaku-shiki

o-bon

seijin no hi

setsubun

shichigosan

sotsuen-shiki

tanabata

Suggested questions to ask about a festival or celebration

Are there any special superstitions/ special foods/ special clothes/…?

Do people (still)…?

How often…?

In your town/ area/ region/ prefecture/ ward/ county/ state/ country/…,…?

Is it true that…?

What do people eat/ do/ wear/…?

What do people use… for?

What does… mean?

What happens…?

What is (a)…?

What is special about…?

What is… called?

What is… made from?

What kind of food…?

What’s the difference between… and…?

When do people…?

Who do people do…?

Why do people…?

Do the same with the things connected to festivals and celebrations below.

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Things connected to Japanese festivals and celebrations to explain

amazake/ shirozaki

bento

bon-odori

butsudan/ kamidana

chirashizushi

e-ma

fukubukuro

furisode

giri choco

hakama

jimbei

kakigori

karuta

koi nobori

koma

kouhaku uta gassen

mikoshi

mochi

nengajo

nihonshu

omikuji

o-sechi-ryori

o-toshi-dama

saru-doshi

taiko

tako-yaki

toshi-koshi soba

tsunokakushi

yaki-soba

yukata

Ask about anything above which you couldn’t think of how to explain (well), working together as a whole class to explain that thing each time.

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Match the mixed explanations below to Japanese festivals and celebrations below, or things connected to them.

It’s a ceremony to mark the first day of school.

It’s a cherry blossom viewing party. People usually have a picnic, eating Japanese lunchboxes and drinking rice wine under the cherry blossom trees.

It’s a doll’s festival. Old-fashioned dolls are displayed in the house.

It’s a Japanese lunchbox.

It’s a kind of household shrine, usually with photos of your ancestors. You leave offerings of food and light joss sticks and candles there.

It’s a kind of Japanese carp flag or kite. It is flown on Children’s Day. The fish looks like it is swimming upstream, which means boys should persevere and not give up. Traditionally families have one for each boy in the family.

It’s a kind of light, summer kimono, like a dressing gown. It’s popular in hotels, hot springs and summer festivals.

It’s a kind of television singing competition, where the men and women are in different teams. It’s traditional New Year television.

It’s a New Year postcard. It’s sent out to many people who you know, similar to Christmas cards.

It’s a portable shrine, usually carried through the streets during summer festivals.

It’s coming of age day, which marks when young people become adults. The young people dress up smartly, often in traditional clothes, and have a ceremony at the town hall/ city hall.

It’s food eaten at New Year, often because it is lucky or has a lucky name.

It’s fried noodles, often sold at street stalls during summer festivals.

It’s shaved ice with sweet toppings, usually eaten at summer festivals.

It’s the first time when people go to a temple or shrine to pray in the New Year. People sometimes burn arrows to take away bad luck.

It’s the year of the monkey, which is one of the years in the Chinese horoscope.

It’s the time when the spirits of your ancestors are supposed to come and visit, a bit like Halloween. People usually clean their ancestors’ graves.

People throw dried beans in their house to take away bad luck. Sometimes someone dresses up as a devil and people throw their beans at the devil. People are also supposed to eat one bean for each year of their lives.

The direct translation is “sweet rice wine”, but it isn’t alcoholic.

The literal translation is “forget the year party”. It’s held at the end of the year, often with colleagues.

Three-year-old, five-year-old and seven-year-old children dress up, usually in traditional clothes, and go to a temple to be blessed.

It’s a kind of chewy, very filling rice cake, made from sticky rice.

It’s a Japanese drum, often a very large one.

It’s a traditional spinning top, spun with a piece of string.

It’s an envelope of money, given as a gift at New Year.

It’s a piece of paper which tells you your fortune for the coming year.

Underline useful language for describing festivals and celebrations and things associated with them in the sentences above. Not every sentence has useful language to underline, and some have more than one useful thing to underline.

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Suggested answers

It’s a ceremony to mark the first day of school.

It’s a cherry blossom viewing party. People usually have a picnic, eating Japanese lunchboxes and drinking rice wine under the cherry blossom trees.

It’s a doll’s festival. Old-fashioned dolls are displayed in the house.

It’s a Japanese lunchbox.

It’s a kind of household shrine, usually with photos of your ancestors. You leave offerings of food and light joss sticks and candles there.

It’s a kind of Japanese carp flag or kite. It is flown on Children’s Day. The fish looks like it is swimming upstream, which means boys should persevere and not give up. Traditionally families have one for each boy in the family.

It’s a kind of light, summer kimono, like a dressing gown. It’s popular in hotels, hot springs and summer festivals.

It’s a kind of television singing competition, where the men and women are in different teams. It’s traditional New Year television.

It’s a New Year postcard. It’s sent out to many people who you know, similar to Christmas cards.

It’s a portable shrine, usually carried through the streets during summer festivals.

It’s coming of age day, which marks when young people become adults. The young people dress up smartly, often in traditional clothes, and have a ceremony at the town hall/ city hall.

It’s food eaten at New Year, often because it is lucky or has a lucky name.

It’s fried noodles, often sold at street stalls during summer festivals.

It’s shaved ice with sweet toppings, usually eaten at summer festivals.

It’s the first time when people go to a temple or shrine to pray in the New Year. People sometimes burn arrows to take away bad luck.

It’s the year of the monkey, which is one of the years in the Chinese horoscope.

It’s the time when the spirits of your ancestors are supposed to come and visit, a bit like Halloween. People usually clean their ancestors’ graves.

People throw dried beans in their house to take away bad luck. Sometimes someone dresses up as a devil and people throw their beans at the devil. People are also supposed to eat one bean for each year of their lives.

The direct translation is “sweet rice wine”, but it isn’t alcoholic.

The literal translation is “forget the year party”. It’s held at the end of the year, often with colleagues.

Three-year-old, five-year-old and seven-year-old children dress up, usually in traditional clothes, and go to a temple to be blessed.

It’s a kind of chewy, very filling rice cake, made from sticky rice.

It’s a Japanese drum, often a very large one.

It’s a traditional spinning top, spun with a piece of string.

It’s an envelope of money, given as a gift at New Year.

It’s a piece of paper which tells you your fortune for the coming year.

Use underlined language above and similar words to describe other festivals and celebrations, e.g. those in other countries, e.g. British traditions or Chinese festivals.

Brainstorm other useful language for describing festivals and celebrations, then compare your ideas with the following pages. 0

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Useful language for describing festivals and celebrations

Use as many expressions below as you can to describe festivals and celebrations, including ones in other countries. Start with language and topics which you didn’t discuss before. 

ancestors

bad luck

bamboo

(formal) banquet

blessing

blossom

to bow

bride

burn/ light

buy

candles

candy/ sweets

card/ postcard

carp

ceremony

chewy rice cake

Chinese horoscope/ Chinese astrology

colleagues/ co-workers

coming of age

cream cake

decorate/ decoration

devil/ demon

display

dress up

extended family

fireworks/ sparklers

flag

flowers

gift/ present

give a speech

good luck

grave

groom

holiday/ public holiday

household shrine

joss sticks

lucky charm

lucky food

kite

made from/ made of

mandarin/ satsuma/ tangerine

mask

myth

New Year’s Day/ New Year’s Eve

offering

office party

official…

party

party poppers

picnic

pine needles

portable shrine

pray

raise a toast

religious…

replace

(Japanese) rice wine

romantic

share

shrine

special dish

spirits/ ghosts

spring cleaning

stay up

street food

stall/ street stall

superstition

(Buddhist) temple

traditional clothes/ traditional footwear

traditional game/ traditional sport

traditional music

visit

watch

wear

wedding reception

wish for

Phrases to describe festivals and celebrations

Useful phrases for giving translations and explaining meanings

The direct (= literal) translation is…/ Translated word for word it would be…

The normal (= usual) translation for this is…

Although there’s no obvious translation, it could be explained as…

It can be translated as…

In Japan we say this when (we are talking about)…

This is often explained as…

This means (something like)…

Useful phrases for comparing different countries

It has something in common with… but…

It’s a bit like/ something like (the British/ American/ Chinese/ Korean/…) but…

It’s similar to… in (name of country).

This also exists in China/ Korea/ most Asian countries/…

This only exists in Japan (and a couple of other countries) and is…

Ask about anything you couldn’t use or understand, making a statement using it each time.

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