In Japan, it is customary for new residents to go visit their neighbors to introduce themselves. When someone new moves into the neighborhood, the other residents might worry and wonder about who has just moved in. However, if the new resident understands Japanese customs and introduces themselves to their neighbors, it can serve as a foundation for long lasting relationships.
You may want to pay a visit to the three houses opposite your house and the two on either side of your house, as well as the three houses just behind your house.
Since your moving day might be noisy or disruptive, it is ideal to pay your visits to your new neighbors on the day before you are scheduled to move in. If a neighbor doesn’t answer their door after a few tries, it might be better to leave a note in their mailbox introducing yourself.
It is also customary to bring a small gift along with you when you pay your visit. People often bring useful, everyday items as a gift (such as, detergent, a towel, plastic wrap, bath salts, tissue, etc.) or foods with a relatively long shelf life (baked goods, etc.). The gift should be relatively inexpensive, perhaps around 500 yen to 1000 yen per gift.
Kadohaki (= sweeping the road in front of a house) is a traditional task that was done every morning by Kyoto’s residents. The custom goes back into very ancient times, and is said to be one of the reasons the city is so clean and beautiful.
As a general rule, when Kyoto residents sweep in front of their homes, they will include a bit (about 30 cm) of their next-door neighbor’s front as well in their cleaning.
One would never sweep the entirety of the front of a neighbor’s house as that would cause one’s neighbor to feel embarrassed. However if you only sweep in front of your own house, disregarding your neighbor’s home completely, people might consider you to be cold or uncaring.
This level of distance, not being overly intrusive but still maintaining a feeling of respect toward one’s neighbors is conveyed in the unique Kyoto custom of kadohaki.
“O-tagai-sama” is a useful Japanese expression often said between people in the same situation and means something like, “We are in this together.”
There are a variety of ways to use the expression, but it is often said to express a shared relationship or a wish for shared and interdependent prosperity.
The term conveys the understanding that there is a “give and take” between neighbors. Most machiya in Kyoto are built in close contact with neighboring households.
It is not uncommon for them to be built along narrow alleys or to have buildings that share walls. In addition, because Kyoto has experienced many calamities and political upheavals in its history, the people of the city have come to cherish their neighbors. In Kyoto, great value is placed on harmony and unity in the neighborhood. It may seem at first that the distinctive customs and manners of the city will be hard to master. However, if one keeps in mind that at the heart of these distinctive customs is a spirit of consideration and tolerance, which the people of Kyoto believe will better enable people to live happily and peacefully with one another in the city, then the various customs will not feel overwhelming or daunting.
A “chonai-kai” (neighborhood association) is an organization formed by residents who want to join and deepen their friendships with other local residents, as well as to work together to promote the common interests of the neighborhood. Usually general officers, such as chairman, secretary, and accountant, are appointed to run the meetings.
The terms of office for the officers, appointment method, the amount of dues used for administration, and the types of activities vary from neighborhood to neighborhood.
Dues may include expenses for shrine upkeep and for putting on festivals.
Some of the main association activities include neighborhood patrols for crime prevention and fire protection.
Members also participate in cross-walk duty to keep kids safe walking to and from school, environmental cleanup activities, and the creation and distributing of neighborhood association newsletters. In addition, many neighborhood events, including the Jizo Festival, athletics meets, other festivals, and disaster prevention drills are also organized and put on mainly by neighborhood associations.
The Jizo Bon Festival is a traditional event, mainly held in the Kinki district of Japan in the summer.
The festival is mostly organized and put on by local neighborhood associations. The festival is actively carried out in Kyoto, and according to a survey done in 2013, the festival was held by about 80% of Kyoto neighborhoods.
The festival is often held over a weekend around August 23rd and 24th, which coincides with the festival day of the Jizo Bodhisattva. People pray to Jizo to wish for safety in the town and the health of children. Venues include areas in front of Jizo shrines, open parking lots, meeting places, parks, etc.
For the festival, people decorate altars for worshiping Jizo, where they offer sweets and fruit. Following the sermon and reading of Buddhist sutras by the priest, sweets are given out; and people come together to cook a variety of food. There are events for children, such as games and traditional competitions like water melon splitting, as well as lotteries. During the festival, there is also a ceremony called “juzu-mawashi” that is performed by people, whereby children sit in a large circle and slowly passing a very long rosary (that looks like a rope of around two or three meters long). Children help pass the rosary from hand to hand around the circle to the sound of the priest’s recitation. As they pass the rosary around, the children pray for health and happiness.
The festival is enjoyed by both children and adults, who take part in planning and preparing. As anyone who is part of the neighborhood association is welcome to join, this festival is recommended to everyone.