Diwali is around the corner (2014)

And How Indian And Japanese Festivals Differ


The biggest Indian festival – Deepavali (Diwali) is here! It’s a festival for lights, lots of candles, sale season, home decorations, more shopping, family gathering and special card games.

Indian festivals are very different from Japanese festivals. The largest Japanese “festival” is actually New Year. So if I take New Year as an example of a Japanese festival, the first difference is that we only gather with family members & relatives. Friends and colleagues are not allowed to join the gathering.

Possibly related, we see many suicide cases around New Year in Japan. People who don’t have family and those living by themselves feel extremely lonely around the time. No shops and restaurants except convenience stores are open around the period and cold snowing season doesn’t help matters.

Indian festivals, by contrast are,open to family, friends and colleagues and even people from other religions. A few years ago, at my first Deepavali, Rachit and I went to our friends’ place. Her family welcomed us and explained all about Deepavali to me.

At the Deepavali night, quite a few number of her relatives dropped by her home and enjoyed conversations over the dinner with her dad & mom. We (friends) were enjoyed dinner & the conversations by ourselves as usual. It’s totally freedom for us, we don’t have to participate the relatives’ conversation or help set up the table or dinner.

After the dinner, we moved to other room to start card games. From this point, there were 2 groups; a group of the parents’ guests and a group of our friends’ guests. Both groups enjoyed the meal without many interactions. If this is a Japanese family, we are not allowed to split into groups. We have to be one big gathering and just listen to the senior-most people with controlling power – the format doesn’t enhance the relationship among people.

The friends in the other room started playing “Teen Patti” – gambling card game, while the other group was having dinner. After an hour or so, both groups merged and enjoyed the game together. This is quite unique group – family & relatives and friends are playing together. And everyone seems comfortable with playing the card with strangers.

As I mentioned, in Japan, no friends or colleagues are allowed to join family gathering, and so this gathering on Diwali was beyond my concept of family gathering. Generally speaking, Indian people welcome others and accept people flexibly. Japanese also accept strangers without judgment in personal interactions, but typically gatherings are  a lot more formal and private.

Another difference is that Japanese gathering is usually more relaxed for the host. The invitee list is usually small, everyone who is coming is quite close, the food menu is not as comprehensive as Indian gatherings, and overall there are fewer surprises to deal with. Indian gatherings are usually open to all, and so the hosts have to work a lot harder on arrangements & food to organize the event.

A final big difference between Japan and  Indian festivals is definitely alcohol consumption. I’ve never seen anyone drinking alcohol at any Indian festival. In fact, most  festivals don’t even have meat or non vegetarian food. Surprisingly, most of our Indian relatives don’t drink. It’s a huge difference from Japan, as we open New year with drinking sake/beer – “Kanpai!”

This Diwali is our first one after marriage. We are looking forward to it and for finding more fun differences between the Indian and Japanese way of life. And of course, more fun, friends, f00d, family  and “teen patti“!

  • Chintan

    An interesting perspective on the differences and similarities between the two great cultures.

    Looking forward to hear more descriptions of the Japanese cultural celebrations.

    Good post!

    • http://www.rachitsayaka.com Sayaka Okano

      Thank you, Chintan! We’ll keep posting interesting findings about each culture. Luckily both Indian & Japanese cultures are very unique and very many things to talk about :)

  • Shobhita Mathur

    wonderfully depicted… loved learning about the Japanese culture…please do keep writing :) :)