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GOOD TIMES. Japanese Celebrations: Cherry Blossoms, Lanterns and Stars! includes a section on New Year festivities that features a step-by-step description and illustration of how to pay respects to the gods, symbols of good luck, special New Year foods and pastimes, and the twelve zodiac animals with brief characteristics of each.

From The Asian Reporter, V17, #7 (February 13, 2007), page 17.

O-Iwai Shimasho! Letís celebrate!

Japanese Celebrations: Cherry Blossoms, Lanterns and Stars!

By Betty Reynolds

Tuttle Publishing, 2007

Hardcover, 48 pages, $16.95

By Josephine Bridges

The people of Japan love to celebrate!" writes Betty Reynolds at the beginning of this enthusiastic exploration of the festive side of a culture often thought of as reserved. Illustrations in vivid colors, accompanied by descriptions in both Japanese and English, give young readers a month-by-month look at both joyful and solemn events observed by our neighbors across the Pacific, some familiar, some brand-new.

The celebration of the New Year takes place on January 1 in Japan, as in the United States, but thatís all the two countries have in common in their observance of the event. "Shortly before midnight on New Yearís Eve, Buddhist priests appear carrying paper lanterns. Trickles at first, then streams, then rivers of people enter through the sacred gate and follow the priests into the temple." Six lavish pages of New Year festivities include a step-by-step description and illustration of how to pay respects to the gods, symbols of good luck, special New Year foods and pastimes, and the twelve zodiac animals with brief characteristics of each. The Boar, "animal of the year" for 2007, is "noble, fun-loving and industrious."

My favorite Japanese celebration is Setsubun, or Change of Season. On February 3, thought to be the first day of spring, "Someone, usually Dad, wears a mask representing a demon while the rest of the family pelts him with beans, shouting "Oni wa soto!" ("Out with the devil!"), "Fukuwa uchi!" ("In with good luck!")."

The Japanese year of festivities continues with Hina Matsuri, the Doll Festival, on March 3. Instructions for making two types of hina paper dolls are included. Cherry blossom season runs from late March to mid-May, during which "Cherry Blossom Front" forecasts are televised daily as the blooms move north from Okinawa to Hokkaido. Kodomo-no-hi, or Childrenís Day, is observed on May 5, and readers can celebrate by making samurai hats from origami paper or newspaper.

As you may have already deduced, Japanese Celebrations isnít just a description of festivities; itís an invitation to participate in them. Every chance she gets, the author encourages young readers to answer questions and undertake simple craft projects. For Tanabata, the Star Festival observed on July 7, she relates the story of a pair of "star-crossed lovers" and the custom of writing poems and wishes and hanging them from bamboo trees. "What would your special wish be?" the author asks.

More summer and fall festivals round out the year, but Japanese Celebrations also includes "Other Happy Events" that arenít tied to specific dates. In addition to birthdays and weddings, two big events in a babyís life ó the first visit to a shrine and the first meal ó are observed with considerable festivity.

And just when youíre afraid that Japanese Celebrations has come to an end ó Surprise! ó thereís one more page full of Japanese words and how to pronounce them. Betty Reynoldsís enthusiasm for the country where she lived for seven years and where she says her heart remains makes Japanese Celebrations a festival in and of itself.

To buy me, visit these retailers:

Powell's Books

  Amazon