The Izu Peninsula’s natural beauty and plentiful hot springs make it one of the top vacation destinations for domestic tourists in Japan. While the scenery and hot springs have been around for a long time, getting here was nowhere near as easy as it is today.
Here in Izu, we have some of the earliest blooming varieties of sakura (cherry trees). The most famous is the Kawazuzakura, which begins to bloom in the beginning of February and peaks around the second to third week of the month. This early variety was developed in the city of Kawazu, where a popular festival runs from the beginning till the end of February.
Everything about Japanese culture can be traced back to its rural villages. Japanese language, behavior, rituals, and diet can be traced back to a small village tucked away in a remote mountain valley.
How can that be? Let’s look at one lesson from language.
One of the first words a foreigner learns when studying Japanese is “gaijin,” 外人 which means ‘outsider.’ The more polite and socially accepted version of this word is “gaikokujin,” 外国人 which means ‘person from a foreign country.’ The word “gaijin” is strongly connected to the important concepts of “uchi” 内 and “soto” 外 in Japanese.
Itō has been inhabited since the Jōmon period – roughly 13,000-300 B.C. This era coincides with the Stone Age. The hunter-gatherer Jōmon people are believed to have entered Japan via the Japan Sea and the northern archipelago. They occupied northeastern Japan, and Izu was at the far western boundaries of their range. Archaeological digs here in Itō have produced artifacts from that time including primitive tools and pottery.
Today is Setsubun in Japan. It is one of several very old traditions imported from Chinese culture and based on the lunar calendar.
In the West, spring is associated with the vernal equinox (March 21), and rituals in European countries generally take place in early April. In Japan, the beginning of February is seen as the start of a transition from winter to spring. It is a time when the seasonal responsibilities of numerous gods start to shift, and they get restless and move around. To prevent gods of bad luck from wandering into the house, people developed a protective ritual called mamemaki (mah-may-mah-kee) or bean sowing.