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The Independent Travel

Japan At the end of March and the beginning of April, the entire population of Japan becomes transfixed by blossoming trees. Hana-mi, or cherry-blossom viewing, is one of the most celebrated moments in the Japanese calendar. There are even national television news updates to keep blossom-spotters informed. The brief life of this delicate pink flower (about one week from first bud to last clinging petal), brings out the party animal in most Japanese people, with sake, dancing and karaoke as common festival ingredients. Parties take place nationwide, but Ueno-koen park in Tokyo is the blossom-watching centre of Japan, with over 1,000 trees of several varieties. Arrive early, as people camp overnight to ensure prime Hana- mi spots.


Iran The run up to Eid-e No Ruz, or Iranian New Year, is traditionally a time for planting spring seeds and giving the house a good once-over with the feather duster. As early as 559BC, the coming of spring was celebrated all over Persia and today remains a huge family event, with Iranians returning to their home town or village to celebrate with friends and relatives. The streets become illuminated with bonfires, a vestige of ancient Zoroastrian fire worship, and double up as obstacle courses for pyromaniac locals. Across Iran, dining tables are laid with seven items, symbolising good triumphing over evil, including garlic, vinegar and olives. Eggs are also symbolic, and mothers have to consume one for each of their children. At the stroke of midnight the family recites a special prayer to secure their luck, health and prosperity over the coming year, presents are given to children and an auspicious rice dish is passed around while New Year wishes are exchanged.

24-31 MARCH

Philippines Eastertime brings a rash of Moriones festivals to the Philippines. These Passion plays break out all over the vast archipelago, but nowhere with more religious intensity than in Marinduque, where the performance lasts an entire week. Rather than Jesus, who merely plays a support role, the focus of this play is a blind Roman soldier called Longinus, the biblical character who pierces the right side of the crucified Jesus and miraculously regains his sight after Christ's blood drops in his eye. Longinus's first vision is Christ's passage to heaven, which doesn't go down too well with his Roman soldier friends, and this somewhat gruesome story reaches a bloody climax with the subsequent execution of Longinus.


North and South Korea The Sokchonje ceremony is a bi-annual Confucian celebration, offering a glimpse of ancient Korea. Held at shrines across the country, this festival honours Confucius, his disciples and other great Chinese and Korean sages with ceremonies conducted in full costume to a traditional court orchestra. South Korea is often described as the most Confucian society in the world, and if you happen to be in Seoul on 26 March you should head for Sungkyunkwan University, where one of Korea's oldest and most impressive Sokchonje ceremonies is held in the "Hall of the Great Sages".


Holland Lovers of leather, lace, and a good lashing should take great pleasure (and pain) in the knowledge that it is Amsterdam's Fetish Freaks Festival, this Saturday. Stage performances from such erotic artists as Fetish Stripper Tara and Erica Hysteria, promise to have followers of fetish and S&M screaming for more. Not content to be a voyeur? Then there's more intimate interaction in themed playrooms, fetish markets and exhibitions. For dancing and degradation 'til dawn, whip along to Roothaanhuis, Rozengracht 133.