Easter in Japan


“Surely it is spring, for the fragrance of flowers circulated by the mountain breeze spreads throughout the peaks and valleys.”

This timeless reflection from Dogen Zenji’s world 761 years ago continues to echo throughout modern Japan at Easter time. Most Japanese will focus on the tradition of hanami, the custom of viewing springtime blossoms at their peak. Under the blossoming cherry and plum trees on Easter Sunday, families will spread out their picnics and enjoy springtime temperatures.

Easter is actually not very well-recognized in Japan where approximately one percent of the population is Christian.  Western influences have generated an interest in Easter treats.  Children cannot resist displays of cute wagashi shaped into balls with rabbit ears or into elaborate decorated eggs. Ice cream stores offer pink, blue, and yellow egg cups filled with confetti ice cream and jelly beans. It is no wonder that the white Easter Lily (lilium longiforum) known as teppou-yuri is native to Japan.

Although there are fewer than three million Christians in the archipelago, people will be attending Easter services in numerous churches of diverse denominations.   Christianity arrived with the Portuguese in 1542, emerging primarily in western Japan. Easter will be celebrated at St. Xavier’s Church in Kagoshima, dedicated to Francis Xavier who was the first Christian missionary to Kyushu island.

Church services in Japan are multicultural events engaging people from many cultural heritages who celebrate Easter in different languages. Services are presented and hymns are sung in Japanese as well as Korean, Vietnamese, and English. As elsewhere, children dress in their finest clothing, carry Easter baskets, and enjoy egg hunts or rolls. Families return home to special dinners, their residences decorated with ikebana made from cherry-blossom branchlets.

The forecast for Easter Sunday predicts temperatures between 65°-70°F (18°-21°C) for Kagoshima, Hiroshima, Kyoto, and Tokyo. People seeking an Easter hanami outing may enjoy a train ride to the cooler mountainous areas beyond Tokyo, since unseasonably warm weather has forced an early bloom in the cities. After hiking the trails near Mount Takao or even Mount Akagi, families can settle into celebratory Easter picnics of bento boxes containing yakitori, omelettes, and noodle salad.  Once again, Dogen Zenji’s thoughts about spring serve as a metaphor for capturing the universal essence of Easter:

“When a single plum blossom opens, therein is held the awakening of the exquisite beauty of spring.”

– Dogen (1252)

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8 comments » Write a comment

  1. Beautifully written article.

    Lived in Tokyo for a while and was amazed at all the Christmas decorations. Considering that only one percent of the population are Christian it surprised me to see Ginza full of Santa Clauses and Christmas presents:-) But Japanese children truly enjoyed it.

  2. It’s really interesting how cultures intermingle with time. I can imagine the treats being very cute and artfully done as only the japanese can do. I wish you a very Happy Easter. :-)

  3. I think its really cool that you’re so into, and know a lot about, the Asian cultures. This sounds like an amazing Easter tradition that takes place among some beautiful scenery. I would love to have a picnic under some of these incredible trees and enjoy 70 degree weather!

  4. To bad we didn’t get a good hanami in Osaka this year. The weather turned bad just about when the weekend was about to start. Second year in a row we get bad weather for the hanami weekend. But last year I went anyway. The rain didn’t bother me too much since it was very beautiful. I can definitely recommend Osakajou if you want to see good hanami.

  5. Great article, Japan is a wonderful contry and with outstanding people, my aunt is japanese and I learn a lot from her culture, now she is a Christian and she explained to me all the retuals she was engaged for the different believes she had growning up in Japan, mainly her father was a gardener and he really believe in the Kami of the trees and stones and everything else in their garden, She doesn’t practice any of this anymore, and she always say the freedom than Christianity gave her, she taught me a lot of civil responsibilities, like she is always sweeping and cleaninge her street, I learn that behavior when I spent a month with them in Miami, and I still do it, I sweep and clean the street in front of my house. She was very happy last month when she was talking with my wife and she told her I sweep the street every day. They are amazing, the only thing I don’t like from the Japanese people is they have to deal with each other with more love, and I hope they will do that thru Christianity.

  6. Paul Ilove your blog… and like yourself I love everything Japanese, but they do complicate everything. But I am like yourself “simplify, simplify, simplify” is my mantra Please post more pics from Japan if is possible. God Bless. Raffo.

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