Category Archives: Religion & Holidays

3 day weekend in Shimoda and Hakone

Our favorite 3 day weekend in Japan was spent in Shimoda and Hakone over the July 4th holiday weekend.  I sent my husband a bunch of google pins I had seen shared on Facebook that I thought looked fun and he came up with an itinerary to visit as many spots as we could.  We have two boys, 8 and 4, so all our locations needed to be family friendly and fun for the kids.

We packed up our car early Saturday morning and started our drive to our first spot, a place called the seven waterfalls on the Izu Peninsula.  It took us about 2 hours to get there from base and we spent about ¥3000 in tolls.

We walked down from the free parking lot and first ventured down to view some waterfalls at the bottom of the hill.  It was just a short walk down some stairs and along the water.  Worth a quick trip down to check out the views.

We then went looking for the onsen we had heard about called Amagisou.  This was just a little farther down the road.  It was inside a hotel so we went to the front desk to pay.  They had a QR code you could scan with your smart phone for a discount as well.  After paying (¥2000/adult, ¥1000/child) we headed downstairs to the men’s and women’s changing rooms where we could change into our bathing suits before walking down to the hot springs.  Connected to the changing rooms were very nice gender specific no clothes indoor onsens. It was a short walk down some stairs to a beautiful waterfall with hot springs surrounding it.  One of the hot baths was too warm for the kids but most were just fine to sit in for a good time period.  There was also a pool that the boys enjoyed jumping and playing in.  We stayed for about two hours, most of which we had the whole place to ourselves.  The best part of the onsen was the beautiful scenery.  It was truly relaxing hearing the sound of the waterfall behind you as you soaked in the warm water.

From here we drove to our hotel, Pension Surf Rider, about a 45 minute drive from Amagiso.  Our room had one full bed and two single beds, a bathroom and shower.  The room was very small but we really just needed a place to sleep.   The people working there did not speak much English but they gave us plenty of handouts about the nearby area.   They had a wonderful breakfast in the morning but we realized we were probably supposed to book at the time you make the reservation.  We were also able to book a family bath time in their outdoor bath.  This was a new experience for us but we all enjoyed it!

Five minutes from the hotel we drove to Dogashima which is known for its stone formations, cliffs and caves formed by the lava flow of past volcanic eruptions and shoreline erosion.  There was a parking lot right at the park and a family mart across the street if you wanted to grab a snack.  The boys enjoyed climbing on the rocks and walking the trails.  The views were amazing and it was a great place to take photos.

The next day we planned for a beach day in Shimoda.  Before hitting the beach we visited Ryugu Sea Cave (about a 50 minute drive from our hotel).  The kids played in the water a bit and it was another great photo opp spot.

We passed 3 nice beaches within 1 mile of the cave but settled on Kisami Beach.  There was a free parking lot right across the road.  We spent most of our day here enjoying the sand, sun and water.  The waves were perfect for our 8 year old to boogie board.

We packed up the car late afternoon and started our drive to Hakone.  An estimated 2 hour drive turned into a 3 hour drive because of traffic.  We spent ¥2000 in tolls along the way.  We checked into our next hotel, Hakone Hotel Kowakien, where we stayed the next two nights.  We really enjoyed this Japanese style hotel.  The grounds were beautiful and the hotel was in close proximity to more of the locations we planned to visit.  There was also a Family Mart right next to it where we purchased easy dinners and drinks.  The hotel offered breakfast and dinner buffets but we chose to save money eating Yakitori and sandwiches from the Family Mart.  Our family room had 4 single beds, two vanities and a shower/tub room.

Our first full day in Hakone we walked across the street from the hotel to the Yunessen Resort and Spa.  The kids were able to enjoy a large pool and outdoor water slides while the adults enjoyed the wine, coffee, green tea, and pearl baths.  We also experienced the feet eating fish called Dr. Fish.  There was an eatery on site so we were able to grab lunch there.  You could also leave the resort and come back later if you wanted to take a break at the hotel.

Yunessun entry fee – Adults ¥3000, Child ¥1800 (hotel did offer a discount coupon with stay)

We took a break from the resort to visit the large Tori Gate on Lake Ashi (Shinto Shrine).  It was a short drive from the hotel and it was another great spot to take photos.

We checked out of our hotel on Monday and made one last stop before heading home.  We had heard great things about the Open Air Museum in Hakone and it did not disappoint.  The grounds were absolutely stunning and the art was unique and beautiful.  There were many structures the kids could play in or climb on.  We also enjoyed a family foot bath.

Museum entry fees – ¥1600/adult, ¥800/child

On our way out of Hakone we stopped in town for coffee and a bite to eat for our drive home.  We found a cute little bakery called “Bakery & Table” which had a wide variety of pastries and coffees.

It was an awesome 3 day weekend and we felt we got to experience a lot of great places in a short amount of time!  Our drive back to base from Hakone was only about an hour and 45 minutes and another ¥3000 in tolls.  Definitely close enough to also be done as a day trip!  – Angela Vaillant, August 2017

St. Patrick’s Day Parade- Tokyo

Asia’s largest St. Patrick’s Day parade takes place in the heart of Tokyo’s Harajuku district. A section of Omotesando Street is closed to traffic for the parade and you will see everything from marching bands to the Tokyo chapter of the U2 fan club. It is a lot of fun! Also, don’t miss the I Love Ireland festival held in neighboring Yoyogi park, for food, entertainment and fun! The date varies every year, but this year (2016) the parade is being held on March 20, and begins at 1:00pm. (A quick google search will tell date and time for subsequent years).- Jamie Cowan March 20162014-03-16 13.37.00

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DIRECTIONS: Take the train to Harajuku station. Yoyogi Park and Omotesando are a quick walk from the station.

Daruma Doll Festival-Haijimadaishi Temple

Looking for a fun New Year’s activity? Look no further than the Daruma Doll Festival, in nearby Akishima. A visit to a shrine, within the first few days of the new year, is  very important aspect of Japanese culture, known as hatsumode.
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The lines to get to the front of the shrine will be very long,  but we bypassed the line and had a great time wandering the festival. Daruma is a good luck doll for the upcoming year. You buy a new Daruma doll each year (there were many to choose from of all sizes), and color in one eye when you make your wish. If your wish comes true during the year, you color in the other eye.2015-01-02 13.57.15
You bring last year’s Daruma to throw in the fire, which is part of the Japanese approach to the new year, “out with the old, in with the new”.
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Also look for the kabura-ya, or arrow with a “turnip” shaped tip, for a fun souvenir. These are modeled after arrows that the samurai used, to attach messages to and shoot them into a fortress or other enclosure. Now, they are sold at Shinto shrines at the new year, as protection from evil spirits.
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Of course, as with all Japanese festivals, there will also be FOOD! There were many vendor stalls set up selling your favorite Japanese street food; yakisoba, yakiniku, takoyaki, etc.2015-01-02 13.50.28

The festival is held at the Haijima Daishi temple every year on January 2nd and 3rd. Parking is extremely limited. The website recommends taking the train, closest station is Akishima station (which is the Moritown station), then it is about a 20 minute walk from Akishima station. Jamie Cowan, December 2015

Hours: 0900-1600, January 2nd and 3rd.
GPS to the shrine: 35.7056997,139.3449119

Fukubukuro- New Year’s “lucky bags”

2015-01-01 08.09.13New Year’s Day is the most important Japanese holiday, where many “firsts” are celebrated. Some of these special firsts include; first prayer, first sunrise, and first …SALE! The Japanese phenomenon known as fukubukuro, (orlucky/happy bag”), entails heading to a store on January 1-3 and buying a bag with unknown contents for a set price. The only guarantee is that the bag will be worth more than you paid, sometimes several times more, but it’s a gamble.

If you are a risk taker at heart, you will love this custom! Some stores show the contents of the bags, but most do not, it’s a complete surprise. Opening your lucky bag has all the anticipation of Christmas morning, and possibly some of the disappointment. Was it money well spent, or not?2015-01-02 08.49.17-1

For example, I spent Y3000 for this bag at a kitchen wares store, and this was its contents; a  small roasting pan with rack, frying pan, spatula, “pig” microwave lid, utensil holder, and two fish shaped kitchen sponges. This bag was definitely worth more than what I paid.


Head to your nearest mall, specialty store or grocery store January 1-3, to join in the fun. But, beware, if you don’t act fast you’ll miss your chance! Lucky bags are only around while supplies last. Jamie Cowan, December  2015

Guide to Japan, Seasonal Activities and Sights

Guide to Japan, Seasonal Activities and SightsIf you are new to Yokota, or been here for years, this comprehensive guide can help you find new and exciting things to do year-round. Created with the seasons in mind, simply click on the link and find out what’s happening. Time to work on that Japan To-Do list!! Click on the links below to be able to zoom in and start your adventure! Created by Linda Bell, May 2015.

PDF: Guide to Japan, Seasonal Activities and Sights

Excel: Guide to Japan, Seasonal Activities and Sights



Japanese National Holidays

Watch out for these dates at you plan your travels, because they are official holidays in Japan and you’ll be traveling with the throng.

January 1 – New Year’s Day
Second Monday of January – Coming of Age Day
Feb 11 – National Founding Day
March 20 (or 21) – Vernal Equinox
April 29 – Showa Day
May 3 – Constitution Memorial Day
May 4 – Greenery Day
May 5 – Children’s Day
Third Monday of July – Marine Day
August 11 – Mountain Day
Third Monday of September – Respect for the Aged Day
September 22 (or 23) – Autumnal Equinox
October 10 – Health and Sports Day
November 3 – Culture Day
November 23 – Labor Thanksgiving Day
December 23 – The Emperor’s Birthday

Japan has several seasonal vacations when children are out of school and companies close down. These are periods of heavy travel. Prices increase and hotel rooms are in short supply. On the other hand, these are great times for sightseeing around Tokyo since everyone else is out of town!

New Year’s break: Many merchants and companies close around December 28 and reopen about January 5. Governments and banks take a shorter vacation, from about the 3lst to the 3rd.
Summer vacation: School summer vacation runs from about July 19 to around September 1. Watch out for O Bon, usually the week of August 15 but held in some places in mid-July, when Japanese often travel to their hometowns to be with family and friends.
April and “Golden Week”: Japanese schools break for two to three weeks in April, when their academic year ends. This often coincides with the American spring break.  Then, from the end of April to the beginning of May, there is a period known as “Golden Week.” It incorporates three national holidays: April 29 (Green Day), May 3 (Constitution Memorial Day), and May 5 (Children’s Day). Companies often give employees the days between the holidays off. Since the weather tends to be good, many Japanese visit resorts, or travel abroad.
During the summer and winter holidays, especially at the beginning and end of the mass exoduses to the beach or ski resorts, stay home! Listen to the news to find out when the outgoing and return traffic rushes are expected and avoid travel during those times. Teresa K. Negley 2010


Shrines and Temples – Etiquette

Shrines are places of worship in the Shinto religion, an ancient faith indigenous to Japan. Shrines usually have torii gates (two pillars with two cross bars) at the entrances to their grounds, and jagged paper emblems or symbolic ropes in front of the altars. Temples, on the other hand, are Buddhist. They are often marked on maps with a symbol resembling a backward swastika. Sometimes, both are present on the same grounds. These are places of worship, so dress appropriately (no bare shoulders or short shorts), and behave respectfully. When entering certain locations, visitors may be asked to take off their shoes. Look for signs requesting this, or shelves where shoes may be left. Some temples and shrines allow photography. Others do not. Check for signs. If unsure, be courteous and ask before taking pictures, especially of interior areas. Louise McCormack

If you like, you can participate in the rituals worshippers practice when they go to a shrine:
Pass under the torii gate and walk through the ‘sando’ or approach to the shrine. At the hand-washing (or purification) stone basin, wash your hands thoroughly. With a dipper, pour water into the cupped hand and then bring the water to the mouth, gargle but do not swallow. Do not bring the dipper directly to the mouth. Advance before the god enshrined. Throw coins or paper currency into the offering box. The worshipper then bows deeply two times. After that, they clap their hands twice and then make a deep bow once more.

Worshippers at a Temple will often burn incense (osenko) in large incense burners. They are purchased in bundles, then lit, allowed to burn for a few seconds and then the flame is extinguished by waving the hand rather than by blowing them out. Finally, the incense is put into the incense burner and some of the smoke is fanned towards the worshipper as the smoke is believed to have healing power. For example, fan some smoke towards your shoulder if you have an injured shoulder.

Area Churches with Services in English

Check at the base chapel for more services and points of contact.
Kanto Plains Baptist Church     042-551-1915
New Light Fellowship         042-553-8040
Tokyo Baptist Church         03-3461-8425
Yokota Baptist Church         042-553-2577
Apostolic United Pentecostal Church     042-553-1159
St. Alban’s Anglican/Episcopal Church     03-3431-8534
Yokota Christian Center         042-551-4772
Yokota Church of Christ         227-6028
Calvary Conservative Baptist Church     042-557-0654
Saint Anselm’s Benedictine Priory (Roman Catholic)     03-3491-6966
St. Paul International Lutheran Church, Tokyo         03-3261-3740
Independent Church of Deliverance             042-552-9679
Franciscan Chapel Center (Roman Catholic)         03-3401-2141/2142
Tokyo Union Church                     03-3400-0047
Tokyo International Church of Seventh-day Adventists     03-3402-1517


Below is a list of  year-round festivals, events, and Japanese Holidays. Festival and event dates vary year to year. Check online or at the Yujo Center for current information.

1-3 New Year’s ceremonies at shrines and temples
2 The public pays respect to the Imperial Family; palace grounds are open
3 Daruma Fair in Kawagoe
6 Dezome-Shiki Edo Fire Brigade near Harumi Pier
15 Seijin-no-Hi – Coming of Age Day

2 Setsubun Bean-Throwing at Kawasaki-Daishi, and Kamakura Hachimangu Plum Blossom Festival, Odawara Castle Park

3 Girls Day
3-4 Daruma Fair, Jindaiji
3 Rice Planting, Chichibu
Second Sunday in March, fire-walking ceremony, Mt Takao
27 Lion Dance in Hakone

Cherry blossom festivals, almost everywhere
17 Yayoi Festival, Nikko

3 Yokohama Port Festival
3-5 Odawara Castle Festival
11-12 Azalea Festival at Hakone
16-18 Asakusa Sanja Matsuri
17-18 Toshogu Spring Festival, Nikko

June, the rainy season
Mid-month (Saturday) Fussa Firefly Festival

1 Opening of Fuji-san
7-12 Tanabata in Hiratsuka, near Atsugi
13-15 Kawagoe Lantern Festival
14 Black Ship Festival (Kujirihama in Yokosuka)
20-22 Fan Festival in Kumagaya, Saitama
23-24 Chichibu River Festival
Art Aquarium in Nihonbashi opens
Showa Kinen Park Fireworks Festival
Sumida River Fireworks Festival
Hokuto City Akeno Sunflower Festival

YT fussa tanabata pic
(Fussa Tanabata Festival, 2016)

1 Summer Festival, Omiya Ayu
Sweetfish Festival, Atsugi
6-7 Tanabata in Fussa
Hachioji Summer Festival
Asagaya Tanabata Festival
Hossawa Waterfall Hinohara village summer festival

9 (About) Ginger Festival in Akiruno
16-17 Yabusame and Feudal Procession in Kamakura
17 Yokohama Carnival

1 Grape Festival in Katsunuma, Yamanashi
14-15 Kawagoe River Festival
17 Autumn Festival, Nikko

3 Daimyo Procession, Hakone
First two weeks, Chrysanthemum Exhibits in areas such as Meiji Shrine in Harajuku, Shinjuku National Gyoen, and Kitain Temple in Kawagoe.

3 Chichibu Night Festival
14 Gishi-sai for 47 Ronin, Sengakuji Temple
17-19 Hagoita Ichi, Asakusa Kannon

January – New Year’s Festivities
The New Year celebrations consist of a series of traditional family and religious observances, which last for days. Preparations for New Year’s Day, begin in late December. After thoroughly cleaning the house and garden, New Year’s decorations are put up, such as:
Shimenawa: A twisted straw rope with white paper strips representing cloth offerings, hung over doorways or at the entrances of shrines. It announces the presence of the gods and keeps evil spirits out.
Kadomatsu: A decoration made of pine branches, straw, bamboo stalks and sometimes plum branches. It is placed at the front gate or doorway and symbolizes prosperity, good health, vigor and longevity. Its size indicates how prosperous the year was for that household.
The toshidana: A special altar. It is placed in the tokonoma or alcove of the main room of the house. It consists of two kagami-mochi (large round rice cakes), set one on top of the other, that are decorated with dried persimmons, a tangerine, dried seaweed, or other fruits or vegetables.
New Year’s is a time to clear debts and obligations. Gifts are sent to superiors, friends and relatives to express gratitude. Personally designed New Year’s cards are addressed and taken to the post office before the end of December. These cards are delivered during the first three days of January. Children get otoshidama envelopes, containing cash gifts.
There are many traditional dishes that are prepared for the New Year’s holiday, and the first meal is a great event. Mochi, a thick, chewy rice cake, is made on the 30th day of December by pounding cooked rice into a gooey paste, then forming it into balls. It is pounded in a large wooden mortar, outdoors, by two or three men using long-handled mallets. Nowadays, mochi can be purchased in stores, or made at home by machine, so the traditional way is less often practiced.
New Year’s Eve is traditionally spent at home watching end-of-the-year television shows and spending time with family. Families eat toshikoshi soba, “passing year:” noodle soup. At midnight, every temple bell in Japan is rung 108 times. Some good places to observe the New Year’s activities are the Meiji Shrine in Tokyo, Yamaguchi Kannon, near Seibu-en and Takahata Fudo Temple in Hino.
On January 2, a daruma doll ceremony is held at Haijima Daishi Temple, just off Rt. 16. Many people bring their old darumas and burn them at a fire at the shrine. New darumas and hamaya arrows (to ward of evil) can be purchased. When you buy a daruma, make a wish and color in one of the eyes. If the wish comes true, color in the other eye.
Traditional games are often played during New Year’s, including tako-age (kite flying), hanetsuki (a Japanese form of badminton, with no net), karuta (card games), and koma (tops). A game known as Fukuwari is played when a blindfolded player attempts to draw the eyes, nose, and mouth on a piece of paper which has the outline of a face drawn on it. The greeting, “Akemashite omedeto gozaimasu” continues to be exchanged through the 6th of January.
During the second or third week of January, giant teepees made of pine branches and New Year’s decorations are burned on the banks of the Tama River after a ceremony. Since there is no set date, have a Japanese-speaking friend call the Fussa or Hamura City Hall. You can see the teepees about a week before the burning ceremony. DIRECTIONS: Turn right out the Fussa Gate onto Rt. 16 then turn left at George’s Auto Sales, 2nd light Shorin Dori Ent.  Go 1.6 km and turn left onto Okutama Kaido, which runs along the Tama River. Go for 1.7 km (5 lights) and turn left across the canal. Turn right at the Tama River, drive past the walking bridge on your left, and park at the dam at the bottom of the hill. The best place to stand is on the walking bridge, unless the wind is blowing in that direction. Barbara Kirkwood, Christine Thomas, Karen Ozment, Melody Hostetler, Rita Mayer

January – Seijin-no-Hi Coming of Age Day
The second Monday of January, also known as the Coming of Age Day or Adult Day, is the day when 20 year-old Japanese men and women celebrate their official coming of age by participating in a ceremony at their local ward office or city hall (Seijin-Shiki). They also visit shrines to pray for good lives, careers and marriages.
You will notice many young women in traditional Japanese dress walking around the town. The long flowing sleeves of their kimonos (nearly calf-length vs. thigh length for married women) signify that they are young and single as do the different and more elaborate knots of the obi.

February – Bean Throwing Ceremony
The Japanese celebrate Setsubun, also known as Onioishiki, on Feb. 3. Americans refer to this ceremony as the bean-throwing ceremony. This ceremony is practiced in Japanese homes to drive away demons. Each family places a holly branch and the head of a dried sardine at the entrance of the house. In the evening, the windows of the house are opened to allow devils to escape, and each member of the family throws a few roasted soybeans into each room and out the open windows of the house while chanting “Oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi” or “out with the demons, in with good luck!” It is customary to eat one bean for each year of your life, plus one for the coming year. The ceremony is called mamemaki. The next day the beans are swept up and thrown away.
Today this ceremony is also performed at some Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples, where large crowds gather to watch Japanese celebrities throw the beans. If you are lucky enough to catch one of the beans, you gain good fortune for the year. One of the best nearby places to observe setsubun is Takahata Fudo in Hino City.
Barbara Kirkwood

Feb/March – Walk in Clouds of Color at Yoshino Baigo
Even with the Kanto Plain’s mild winters, spring is a welcome sight. Plum blossoms, unlike short-lived cherry blossoms, are in bloom for several weeks and are a must-see while in Japan. Their delicate pink, white and lavender hues give a dainty loveliness to the surroundings from the end of February through March.
One famous spot for seeing Japan’s plum blossoms is right near Yokota Air Base, in Ome City. Trees in almost everyone’s yard are part of the beauty of the area. About 25,000 trees, spanning a collection of 100 different varieties, blossom in the town of Yoshino Baigo in Ome City, located on the Tama River. Yoshino Baigo has a small park named Ume-no-Koen, or Plum Park, which is especially lovely during plum-viewing time.
“Baigo” means “plum garden.” Also, Yoshino Baigo has a festival to celebrate this season with a number of booths selling the usual festival foods and souvenirs. This festival runs throughout the month of March. There’s a special day of celebration on a mid-March Sunday, with performances of traditional dancing.
TRAIN DIRECTIONS: Take the Ome Line JR train to Hinatawada; then walk north to the bridge that crosses the Tama River (on your left). You are in Yoshino as soon as you cross the bridge. This main street is where the festival is held. To get to Plum Park, continue on the street until you reach a T-intersection. Turn left and look across the street for a tiny paved street on the right-hand side of the road.
DRIVING DIRECTIONS: Parking is scarce on the main festival day and are also limited at other times. Turn right out the Fussa or Terminal Gates and go north on Route 16. Seven lights after the Terminal Gate, turn left on Ome Kaido and continue on Ome Kaido until you reach Hinatawada, in about 20 to 30 minutes. Watch for the Hinatawada train station on your right. It is above the road level and is painted yellow. Turn left across the first bridge over the Tama River after the train station. You are now in Yoshino.
Sondra Halweg

March – April Sakura
When cherry trees bloom, all of Japan celebrates. Time itself seems to honor the brief but beautiful life of the fragile sakura. Under canopies of soft pink, blankets are spread, families and friends gather to eat, drink, sing, and often just contemplate the beauty and peace. There are many places well known for cherry blossom viewing – Kyoto, Kamakura, Ueno. But some of the prettiest and most accessible are just outside the Yokota gates. Fussa and Hamura annually greet the cherry blossoms with festivals.
The Tama River has walkways that wind through woodland, past playgrounds, residences, and small shrines. The walks are lined on both sides with mature cherry trees. Normally quiet and fairly deserted, during the Cherry Blossom Festivals, these become the “place to be.”
For several days, small booths sell traditional Japanese food, toys and flowers under the protection of the blooming trees. There is occasionally a tea ceremony demonstration, or you might discover a Noh theatre in the grassy areas along the path. The way becomes crowded with many who wish to share in the spirit, but the view is never blocked. The celebrations begin in the morning and continue until about 10 p.m. The walkway originates near the dam on the Tama River and follows a canal along Okutama Kaido. The most popular area is near the dam where the merchant stalls draw crowds for food and drink. But the entire walkway is worthwhile for its beauty.
The dates of the festival vary according to the blooming of the trees. Normally, it last for four days over the weekend nearest the height of the cherry blossoms.
Parking is tough. It is an easy 15-minute bike ride from the base. Driving should take about 20 minutes, depending on traffic.
DIRECTIONS: Turn left out the Terminal Gate. Go to the first stop light and turn right. Follow this street across two sets of train tracks until you come to a “T” intersection. Turn right. You are now on Okutama Kaido and the canal is on your left. Continue to the second stoplight. You’ll see a bridge with yellow pavement here across the canal. Turn left over the bridge and follow the road around and down the hill past the athletic field. You may find parking along this street. You will be able to see the cherry trees and the path now. Follow the throng up the canal to the main area of the festival.
Donna Alexander

More Places to Enjoy Cherry Blossoms
1. Sayama Ko – This ordinary dam becomes a promenade during sakura (cherry blossom) season. While many Japanese crowd the area on weekends, fewer people visit during the week. It’s a nice place to take children for a picnic. On weekends, food booths appear around the lake, selling corn-on-the-cob, grilled squid, snack foods and soft drinks. DIRECTIONS: Turn left out the East Gate. At the first signal light, turn right. At the next light, turn left. Continue on this road to the “T” intersection. At the “T”, turn right onto Ome Kaido. After you pass the third light, you will see a 7-11 store on the right and the fourth light just ahead. Turn left onto a very small street just before the fourth light. Continue on this road. It will widen soon and you will enter a  large park area. After about 6 or 7 km, you will pass the Tamako Jinja Shrine on your right. You will come to a fork in the road, a major intersection. Turn left. Going straight would take you around to Seibu-En and Seibu Stadium. Yamaguchi Kannon will be on your right. Just after this you will see a restaurant on your right and parking down a hill to your left. Park and walk to the dam. Cross over to the other side and there is another large park.
2. Mutsumibashi-Dori – A special viewing place, especially at night. DIRECTIONS: Go straight out the Supply Gate and cross two sets of railroad tracks. After 1.3 km, turn left onto Denen-dori, where you see a school on your right and four-way crosswalk overhead. Pass a Marufuji Store on the left. At the “T”, turn right. Just before the bridge, enter the park on the left. Park your car and walk along the river to your right to find the cherry blossoms.
3. Yanagi Yama Park – Fifteen minutes from Yokota, this park on the Tama River offers paths for strolling or biking, and swings and slides for children. DIRECTIONS: Turn left out of the Main Gate and first right at Tamabashidori Ent.  Continue down this road through one set of lights, over a train track, then through another set of lights, over another set of train tracks and on through two more sets of lights.  At the fifth set of lights (at the bottom of a hill/bridge) turn right.  You will see a white building with blue, glass frontage (the Fussa gym) on the left. Yanagi Yama is behind the gym. Parking is limited.
4. Chidori Ga Fuchi- A little further away, but easy to get to, this park has a science and art museum. It is across the street from a huge torii gate and shrine dedicated to those who died during World War II. On a small lake, you can row a boat under the blossoms. Rental boats are available Tuesday-Sunday, 9:30am-4pm. Cost is ¥200 for 30 minutes, or ¥400 for one hour.  TRAIN DIRECTIONS: Take the Ome Line to Tachikawa and change to the Chuo Line toward Tokyo. At Nakano, change to Tozai Subway (track 4). Get off at the sixth stop, Kudanshita. Go out Exit 2. The park will be in front of you at the top of the stairs. Turn right and walk a short distance. You will see a sign in English saying “Chidori Ga Fuchi” pointing left. This is the prettiest walk with the trees forming an arch over the walkway. On the right you will see a large black torii.
5. Takao Rinyakyoku- This Forest Test Center offers the view of thousands of trees, which until recent years were enjoyed only by the Emperor. For a little exercise, hike to the picnic area at the top of a hill for a bird’s eye view. Since there are no food stands, bring lunch. A map of the area is  ¥50 or free of charge with the purchase of cherry blossom photographs (six for  ¥500). Takao Rinyakyoku is open 9:30am-3:30pm Monday- Saturday during April. TRAIN DIRECTIONS: Take the Ome Line to Tachikawa and change to the Chuo Line toward Takao. Ride the train five stops. After you exit the train, look for the north exit near Tracks 1 and 2. Go out the north exit and walk to the street straight out the station, Takao Kaido. Walk up a hill. Bear left. Takao Rinyakyoku is about 15 minutes from the train station.
Pat Nolan, Lori St. Laurent, Sondra Halweg, Barbara Kirkwood, Christine Thomas

March – Girls’ Festival
Hinamatsuri, known as the Doll Festival, or Girls’ Day, is celebrated March 3. It is part of a seasonal festival called momo-no-sekku or peach festival, for the abundant peach blossoms. Families, especially those with young girls, will display a group of beautiful dolls, usually inherited, on tiers. Each doll represents a member of the ancient imperial court. On the top shelf are the Emperor and Empress (dairi-bina), below them are two eminent lords (udaijin and sadaijin), three ladies-in-waiting (sannin-kanjo), five musicians (gonin-bayashi), and lastly their three servants. At the bottom of the display on the lower shelves are miniature replicas of furniture, foods, and palanquins. Although Hinamatsuri is a festival from medieval times, the custom of displaying dolls only dates to the 18th century. In the beginning, the dolls were handmade and thrown into the river along with other offerings on March 3. Nowadays, commercially made dolls are very expensive so they are taken down and stored carefully away for the next year. It is said that the dolls should be taken down as soon after the festival as possible, preferably on the night of March 3. The story goes: if you leave the dolls out too long, your daughters will have bad luck in getting married. One friend, whose mother used to leave her dolls up for over a month after the holiday, strongly believes in this superstition, as she is 30 years old and still single.
Viki Lyn Paulson-Cody

March – Fertility Festival
Fertility festivals are held throughout Japan in March. The most popular is the Honen Matsuri, known as the Nagoya Fertility Festival. The purpose of the festival is, well, to promote fertility, complete with pomp, ceremony, and ah … unusual paraphernalia. On March 15, the festival peaks with a grand procession from one shrine to another along the banks of rice paddies to ensure a good harvest. Priests offer prayers for abundant crops while presenting sake to the crowd. Farmers do their part by contributing donations to the Shinto gods. Crop fertility, however, isn’t the only fertility being honored. The priest also sprinkles rice on the spectators to ensure their fertility. Meanwhile, parade participants carry symbols of a different nature. Any lingering doubts about the festival’s purpose disappear after one look at the parade’s centerpiece: a male fertility symbol 12 feet long. Candy replicas of this, and its female counter part, can be purchased to take home. Two shrines, the Tagata (male) and the Gakuden (female), sponsor this celebration. Not surprisingly, the Tagata Shrine is the more important. Its large and varied collection of unusually shaped rocks, stones, and branches is on display on the grounds of the shrine. Held March 14-15, this festival is a splendid way to spend some time off. ITT runs a tour to this festival.
Norma Jean Myrick

March – Fire-walking Festival (Hiwatari Matsuri)
Mount Takao has one of the few local fire-walking festivals and it’s not to be missed. Yamabushi Hiwatari is held at the Yakuoin Temple, near the summit of Mount Takao, on the second Sunday of March. Buddhist priests walking over red-hot embers lead the ceremony. To reach the summit you can take a 10-minute cable car ride to the top. The cable car costs about ¥800 round-trip for adults. Children’s fare is about ¥410 round-trip. Follow the path up the hill to the Yakuoin Temple, about a fifteen-minute walk. You’ll find souvenir shops and benches all along this trail. No equipment required, only energy and comfortable shoes. Festivities begin at 1 p.m. with a drum beating chorus. Next, a procession of Buddhist priests in ornate robes slowly makes its way to the altar for a purification ceremony. The priests gather around a very large wooden frame, which is covered with wood and pine boughs. There will be about 45 minutes of prayers, chants and rituals. Then the priests light the fire. As the fire grows larger they feed it with old prayer sticks for good wishes. The flames leap higher and higher, throwing ash into the air. Beware to those of you at the front: it will become an ash shower and can get smoky downwind. After about 20 minutes, the priests poke through the embers, creating two pathways. The priests walk across the embers and after their ceremony is over, they invite the spectators to try. The line will be very long, so if you want to participate in the fire-walking itself you should try to gather at the gate during the ceremony, not after. There will be four salt piles: one at the beginning and end of each of the two procession lines. Before walking across the coals, step into the salt and then again when you finish. Be sure to carry a washcloth or small towel to clean your feet when you are finished! Don’t be afraid. On my visit, I watched a little girl of three or four try it with her mom, and she looked as though it was a breeze.
TRAIN DIRECTIONS: Leave from the Higashi Fussa station and take the train to Hachioji. Change to the Chuo Line on track four to Takao. The trains are very frequent, about one every ten minutes. Be careful not to get on an express train to Kofu! Except for the express trains, all the others stop at Takao and the train will be marked for Takao (in English). At Takao you will have to change trains again to the Keio Line to reach Takao-San. When you get off the train at Takao follow the signs (in English) to the Keio Line, going past the ticket booths. At Takao you will take the train to Takao San Guchi, the end of the line. The approximate cost of the trip is ¥400, one way, for adults. Travel time is about an hour.
Viki Lyn Paulson-Cody

May – Children’s Day (Kodomono-Hi)
This national holiday on May 5 marks the end of Golden Week, a week of intermittent holidays and workdays during which many companies take vacations. This day was originally celebrated as the Boys’ Festival. May 5 is also celebrated as tango-no-sekku or the Iris Festival and according to the old lunar calendar, this is the beginning of summer. To drive away evil spirits and to celebrate the future of their sons, each family will hang one or more koi-no-bari, carp streamers made of cloth, similar to our windsocks, from flagpoles and balconies. These koi-no-bori can range in size from two feet to 60 feet. They can be simple or ornamental. Indoors, gogatsuningyo (samurai dolls) are displayed.
Boys take a bath with floating iris leaves called shobuiyu. They eat kashiwa-mochi (rice cakes in oak leaves) and chimaki (dumplings in bamboo leaves). These decorations and foods are prepared by parents with the hope that their children will grow up healthy and strong. Samurai, carp, irises, oak trees and bamboo are known in Japan as symbols of strength.
Viki Lyn Paulson-Cody

June – The Fussa Firefly Festival
This little festival is held mid-month, on a Saturday. Billed as a “graceful dance of about 500 fireflies.” The epicenter of the festival is a park in Fussa where butterflies are bred. The festival runs about 1-9pm. Location: About 1km from the Supply Gate.  GPS: 35.7309,139.3305. Sponsored by Fussa City, so you can check the city website for details. (Check either the English section, or open the site in Google Translate.) Liz Ruskin, 2012

August – Fussa’s Tanabata Festival
Yokotans join their Fussa neighbors in the city streets to celebrate the yearly rendezvous of the lovers, Vega and Altair. This festival grew from Chinese folklore brought to Emperor Koken’s Imperial Court in 775 AD. The love story is about a talented weaver, Vega, who met Altair, a herdsman, through Vega’s father. The young couple fell in love and Vega subsequently neglected her weaving. Vega’s father was angered so he demanded the lovers separate, allowing them to meet only once a year, on the seventh day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar.
Originally, girls wrote their wishes on paper strips hung on bamboo branches. Later, colorful streamers were used. There are three shrines carried, which are different from other festivals: one by adult Japanese males, one by adult Japanese females, and one by Americans. The festival includes dashi (a wagon with drums and music), dancers (about 130 groups), festival foods and fun. This is truly a Japanese-American festival and a Yokota-Fussa friendship event. If you want to be a “shrine carrier” and part of it all, just contact the Wing Public Affairs Office.
Thora Davidson-White

August – Yokota Friendship Festival
The Yokota Friendship Festival features fly-bys, static aircraft displays, music and dancing. The Japanese will wait in long lines to have their photos taken with airmen in front of their plane. There are many booths selling food, t-shirts, and other souvenirs. Some 200,000 people attend the annual 2-day summer event. A fireworks show wraps up the festival on Sunday evening. Watch the base bulletin and Fuji Flyer for specific dates. Invite your Japanese friends for a great day of entertainment!
Christine Thomas

August – Ome Fireworks
On the first Saturday night in August, Ome City has a magnificent display of fireworks. It lasts over an hour! To get to the viewing area, follow the crowds walking up the hill behind the Ome train station. Take a mat to sit on as hundreds of people sit on the ground of the athletic field. Go early so you’ll have room to spread out your mat or blanket. Bring a picnic and enjoy the night!
Christine Thomas

August – The Festival of Lanterns
This is the month of Bon, when the spirits of the dead revisit their families and are entertained for a few days and then return to the other shore. Bon Matsuri, or Festival of Lanterns, is a time to show respect for and to acknowledge gratitude to ancestors. It is also a joyous time when those who have passed away return to visit with the living. Bon Matsuri is not a national holiday and is therefore not celebrated at the same time throughout Japan. It is celebrated from July 13-15 in Tokyo. In most other parts of Japan, the three-day event is celebrated in August during the summer break so that people can return to their hometowns. In preparation for O-bon, homes and graveyards are cleaned. Decorations, offerings and food are purchased at bon-ichi (Bon market) or kusa-ichi (grass market). Buddhist graveyards are elaborately decorated. Branches from Japanese umbrella pine, koyamaki, and sakaki trees can be found along with mochi, fruit and incense. On the first night, families flock to cemeteries with white lanterns to light the way for returning ancestors. In the main room of the house, the butsudan, or family altar, is displayed along with the ihai, record of ancestry. The house is carefully decorated and appropriate foods prepared to make the returning spirits feel welcome. Presents are exchanged between friends, and merchants give gifts to valued customers. Workers are often given a day off and a gift. Vendors offer all types of souvenirs, including crickets in wooden cages, red fish, bonsai trees and ferns. Fortunetellers promise a look into the future, and zodiac charms are available to insure good luck. At the end of the three-day visit, Dango, farewell rice balls, are offered to the spirits for their journey. People flock to rivers to flat small boats with lighted lanterns aboard.
A lively and important part of the Bon season is the Bon-odori, a rhythmic dance in which participants sing, clap hands and stamp feet in unison to folk songs, accompanied by beating drums that go faster and faster. The dances performed in Kosi in Nagano Prefecture, and Tokushima in Tokushima Prefecture, August 14-16 are among the most distinctive and very popular with visitors. Another noteworthy celebration takes place on Shiraishi-jima, an island in the Inland Sea, on August 13-16.
Tina Isaacson, Rita Mayer

September – Chouyo
Chouyo, the Chrysanthemum Festival, on the ninth day of the ninth month, was adopted by the Japanese from a Chinese festival during the Tokugawa period. The chrysanthemum signifies fall and winter and the wheel-like form of its shape is a symbol of the radiating sun (it is also the emblem of the present imperial family). Like Ground Hog Day, the weather on this day is said to forecast the weather of the coming winter. Good weather promises an easy winter, rainy weather means cold and snow, while a northeasterly wind predicts an abundance of fruit.

September – Juugoya
A pale moonlit night in autumn has a special appeal to the poetic temperament of the Japanese people. Juugoya, the 15th night or night of the full moon late in September, is an occasion for moon-viewing parties. Although the practice of greeting the moon is no longer observed as widely as in the past, it still delights many people. Just before twilight, a small table is set out where the rays of the harvest moon will fall. Fifteen dango (rice dumplings) are placed on the table with fruit and vegetables as an offering to the Moon Goddess. A vase with the Seven Grasses of Autumn (susuki: including cattails & pampas grass) will also be set on the table. When the moon rises, family and friends will admire the beauty of the moon while enjoying refreshments.

September – Keiro-no-Hi
September 15, Keiro-no-Hi or Respect for the Aged Day, is a national holiday for showing reverence to the elderly. (Be especially careful not to sit in the Silver Seat at the end of a railway car this day if an older person is present. These seats are reserved for handicapped and elderly persons at all times. They are usually marked by a different color and dark blue sign on the window above the seat.) Shuubun-no-Hi, or the Autumn Equinox, is another national holiday. Some Japanese make pilgrimages to the graves of their ancestors at this time. Housewives also make and distribute delicacies to friends and neighbors as tokens of kindness and regard for life.
Carol Ingmanson, Teresa K. Negley

September – The Ginger Festival
The Ginger Festival is to be found at the Ninomiya Shrine on September 9. About 100 years ago, the people of the area began celebrating an annual festival at the Ninomiya Shrine believing the eating of ginger would bring good health and well-being for the coming year. Ginger plants and craft items, can be purchased from a several venders. You’ll find popcorn, cotton candy and honey-roasted chestnuts for sale. Try the squid cooked on skewers – surprisingly tasty. Throughout the day, there are many different types of traditional entertainment. The puppet show is a favorite of young and old alike. The stage is set up high to give everyone a good view. The puppets are about two-thirds the size of a human and magnificently crafted. The puppeteers can be seen, but they are shrouded in black to blend in with the background. Drums and other traditional instruments accompany the performance. Events at the festival continue all day. Between 4-8pm a smaller portable shrine is carried through the streets and up the 46 steps to the permanent shrine.
DIRECTIONS: From Fussa go to Haijima Station, then change to the Itsukaichi Line. Take this train to Kumagawa, then to Higashiakiru Station. The Ninomiya Shrine is only a four-minute walk from the station.
Debbie Reed

November – Shichi-Go-San
The ”7-5-3” festival was traditionally held on November 15, but is now celebrated throughout the month of November. It is a festival for 3- and 7-year old girls, and 5-year-old boys. Girls are dressed in their finest kimonos and boys are dressed in their finest haregi. Parents and grandparents, also dressed in their finest, take their children to Shinto shrines to give thanks for their good health and pray for happiness and future blessings. The younger girls are usually dolled up at home, by mom or grandma. The older girls, however, may get to make a special trip to the beauty parlor where they get their hair styled, their faces made up and their kimonos perfect. The next stop is a professional photographer, who will capture the moment of the special day. Here the girls are given a stick of candy called chitose-ame (literally 1,000 years of age candy). The girls display these long candy sticks in festive bags for their pictures. Upon arrival, we were overwhelmed by the number of beautiful young girls and handsome young boys! We made our way to the registration area where our friends’ daughters waited their turn to go into the shrine. After more pictures and some squirming by young people, the girls were finally called. There were approximately eight families in the room, with boys and girls. I tried not to look like a ‘tourist’ as I looked over each of these young boys and girls to see their kimonos and haregi. We knelt before a Shinto priest and he began the ceremony, which I never understood but will truly remember for the rest of my life. He blessed the children as a whole and prayed for their health and happiness in a ceremony that lasted only fifteen minutes. Within the first five minutes, my feet had gone to sleep and as I looked around thinking I might shift to a more comfortable position, I realized quickly this was a place where this should not be done. I wondered how I might walk when it was over! After the group blessing, the priest called each of the children by name to the front and gave them a blessing. Then, when all the children were done, we left the room. Next, we took a walk around the grounds and looked at some of the old original buildings within the Shrine grounds. After some more photos, we headed home, where everyone changed out of their kimonos into some ‘Sunday’ clothes could go out to celebrate with a traditional Japanese feast.This festival is quite an experience, and even if you cannot participate yourself, going to local and more famous shrines on Sundays in November (or a Japanese holiday in November) to see the boys and girls is a real treat. Some of the most popular areas in Tokyo are Meiji Jingu (Meiji Shrine) near Harajuku Station, Kanda Myojin near Ochanomizu Station, and Asakusa Jinja near Asakusa Station.
Viki Lyn Paulson-Cody

December – Emperor’s Birthday
In Japan, although Christmas is not a national holiday, some western traditions are being adopted. Confectioners have started a “tradition” that a Christmas cake is to be eaten by the family on Christmas Eve. Santa Claus brings one gift per child. The only national holiday this month is the Emperor’s Birthday on December 23. On this day, the castle gates are opened and the Emperor gives a speech to the public. This is quite an experience. He repeats the speech several times throughout the day to accommodate the masses of people lined up to view him and his family.

December – Chichibu Yo- Matsuri
An all-night festival is held on the 2nd and 3rd of December, highlighted by a parade of six huge lantern-lit floats. On the 3rd all the floats assemble at the Chichibu Shrine around 7pm, and proceed along the city’s main streets. There is a fireworks display from 8:20-10pm in Hitsujiyama Park. From 2-3pm, kabuki is performed on a temporary stage in front of the Musashino Bank.
December – Gishi-Sai
A festival is held at Sengakuji Temple in Tokyo on December 14 celebrating the famous vendetta carried out by the 47 Ronin “masterless samurai” of Ako in 1702. The parade, reenacting the event, starts from Nihombashi Memmo Co., near Higashi-Nihombashi Station on the Toei Asakusa Line at 6pm. They cross the Ryogoku Bridge and arrive at Matsuzakacho Park around 6:20. After a reception they ride the subway to Sengakuji Station and arrive at Sengakuji Temple, the burial place of these masterless samurai, at around 7:30pm. A memorial service is then held.