Japan in December

Hagoita market

Hagoita refers to a wooden paddle used in a badminton-like game played by girls. In old times girls who missed the shuttlecock had a mark drawn on her face and the game continued until someone's face was covered in black ink.

Nowadays this is not done, though the paddle itself can be decorated and is considered to bring good luck.

A special market is held December 17 to 19 at the Senso-ji temple in Asakusa, Tokyo. People buy the paddles along with other items. This particular market festival goes back to the Edo period (1603-1868).

The paddles themselves can be as short as seven inches or can be almost six feet in length (although how would you swing a six-foot paddle?). The most popular kind is one that is two feet tall.

December 31:Omisoka

Families finish cleaning their houses and making their New Year's preparations. As midnight approaches Buddhist temples beginning ringing the temple bell some 108 times, the number 108 standing for the 108 human earthly passions that a person has to overcome in order to achieve enlightenment.

One custom is to earth toshikoshi soba noodles. This is to help make sure the family fortunes will extend like the long noodles.


1. Final exams. The second term of school comes to an end and exams are given on Japanese, math, English, science, social studies, physical education, home economics, music and art.The exams are sometimes followed by conferences between the student, teacher and parent to see how they are progressing in school.

2. Winter vacation. This lasts about two weeks with the students not being given any homework expect possibly to turn in a piece of New Year calligraphy.

3. Monsters of Oga Peninsula. In Akita Prefecture families are visited by people made to look like ferocious demons. They come to the house and demand to know if there are any crybabies or lazy kids there. The young children, of course, are terrified and hide behind their parents.

The parents then tell the monsters that none of their children are like that and they give the creatures food and drinks to appease them. The demons they pray for the safety and well-being of the family, good harvests and good fishing before they leave.

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