2012/01/23 - Chinese New Year in Yokohama Chinatown
Today was the first day of the Chinese New Year (旧正月, Kyūshoūgatsu), a big affair that marks the beginning of the lunar calendar and is celebrated with a two week long festival. The dates vary from year to year since they are based on the lunar calendar, but usually occur between late January and late February. This year's festivities will take place from January 23 to February 6.
Although it is not celebrated as a national holiday in Japan, various Chinese New Year festivals are held in Chinatowns across the country. One of the largest takes place in Yokohama Chinatown, so I headed out there this morning to check it out.
Red lanterns, banners, and lights decorated the streets
Lions and dragons on display at the ChinaTown 80 building
Lots of places were decorated with red envelopes and the kanji for luck
Yokohama Chinatown was pretty crowded today, and hundreds of people visited the district's two temples to make offerings of incense and burn symbolic money for the dead. The air was heavy with smoke as people rang gongs and made prayers, and a trumpeter blew a large silver horn every few minutes.
Huge sticks of incense left as offerings
So much incense was burning that the ash drifted down like snow
One of the most recognizable Chinese New Year's events are the lion dances, which are performed by a pair of dancers who manipulate a lion costume into dancing, tumbling, and performing acrobatic moves. On the first day of the festival several lions travel the streets from 16:00 to 20:00, stopping to dance at the shops and restaurants along the way. The lions are thought to scare away evil spirits and usher in fortune and good luck, and in return the dance troupes are rewarded with red envelopes filled with money.
One troupe of lion dancer start at Kanteibyo Temple
Lion dancers perform outside a shop
Lions are thought to spread good luck and fortune while scaring away evil spirits
More events will be held on the weekends during the festival. These include dragon dances, which are similar to lion dances but instead use several dozen meter long, serpentine puppets carried by a team of dancers. Dragon dance and lion dance performances will be held several times a day on January 28-29 and February 4-5 at Yamashitamachi Park at the center of Yokohama Chinatown.
A troupe of high school student lion dancers
Lion dancers and a huge crowd of onlookers visiting an area restaurant
On the afternoon of January 29th, a parade of people in traditional Chinese dress accompanied by lion and dragon dancers will begin at Yamashitamachi Park and circle through the districts main roads. A lantern festival, which traditionally closes the New Year's celebrations, will be held at Masobyo Temple on February 6th.
A pair of lions bless a liquor shop
The lion dances went into the night