February is frigid in Japan, as it is in many other places throughout the world. In the city of Sapporo on Japan’s northernmost main island, Hokkaido, the boys and girls, and grownups, too, delight in the cold as they look forward to the annual Snow Festival. The snow figures, limited to a height of thirty-three feet, might take the shape of dinosaurs or of some character from Japanese folklore. Soldiers from the nearby army base help to build the largest snow figures, and during the Snow Festival it seems as if the city is a dazzling white fairyland.
Japan is made up of four main islands in the Pacific Ocean—Kyushu, Honshu, Shikoku, and Hokkaido—and numerous small ones. The total land area is about the size of the state of Montana in the United States and is the home of over a hundred million people! The country is known as Nippon, or Nihon, which means “source of the sun.”
The Japanese love beauty of all kinds. Although many persons, from babies to great-grandparents, may live under one roof, each home has an alcove where something beautiful may be enjoyed. The people also take special pride in their gardens.
Boys and girls attend school for at least nine years. Walking to school, they must be extra careful of carts and bicycles, because many of the streets are narrow and have no sidewalks. The children carry their lunches and books on their backs in small boxes called obentos.
Favorite games played in Japan are kakurembo (hide and seek) and baseball (beisu-booru). Baseball is known as the national pastime. Kite-flying is enjoyed by all the family. A special time for this sport is May 5, when Boy’s Festival is held every year. Each Japanese family flies a fish kite from a bamboo pole on this day, and many competitive kite events are scheduled. Sometimes whole villages compete with one another to see who can build and fly the biggest kites.
A special day for girls in Japan is Doll Festival Day, the third day of the third month. (Reread all about it in the story “The Festival Dolls” in the January 1971 Friend.)
A special day for Latter-day Saint boys and girls is the day they are eight years old and can be baptized. The Church has few chapels with baptismal fonts in Japan. If a baptismal font is not available, the children are usually baptized in an o-furo (hot bath), the public baths that are found in hotels, inns, and other public buildings. And sometimes the children must be baptized in the cold waters of the ocean or seas that completely surround this island nation.