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National Days and Observances

Japan

National Holidays in Japan

July 26, 2019

Out of all the countries in the world, Japan has among the most national holidays, which is a great bonus to workers across the land who have very few days in their annual vacation allowance.

Here we have listed all the national holidays in Japan, and most of the observances, so you can see what is happening when and decide when is, or isn’t, a good time to visit this remarkable country.

National Days and Observances

1 January – Hatsumode – The year’s first visit to a shrine or temple, Hatsumode festivities are held at shrines and temples across Japan, during the first few days of the year, but mainly on January 1. There is a festive atmosphere with food stands, people queuing to pray in the main hall, buying lucky charms for a fortunate new year and disposing their ones from last year. The most atmospheric time to visit is around midnight on New Year’s eve, when the temple’s bell is rung repeatedly.

January – Coming of Age Day – Seijin-no-hi (Coming of Age Day), is a Japanese national holiday that occurs on every second Monday of January. Also known as ‘Adult’s Day’, it honours those that have turned 20 years of age over the past year. When young people reach twenty they officially become adults in Japanese society and they now have responsibilities as well as newfound liberties: such as being able to drink, smoke, go to hostess bars, gamble and to drive legally. The young women wear elaborate kimono, and the young menhe boys usually wear a smart suit and tie, but a few still wear traditional dress.

January – Dondo-Yaki – Dondo Yaki, held in the middle of January at Shinto shrines across Japan, is the custom of burning lucky New Year decorations such as Omikuji or Daruma dolls. It is considered extremely unlucky to dispose of lucky items in the bin and, according to Japanese culture, a Dondo Yaki ceremony is the proper way to dispose of anything that’s considered lucky, it’s a way of putting the past to rest and begin the year with a fresh start. It’s considered particularly important to dispose of any charms decorated with last year’s Japanese Zodiac symbol.

February 3 – Setsubun – The last day of winter according to the traditional Chinese calendar, is celebrated in Japan on 3rd February 3 each year. This isn’t a national holiday, but a day on which people perform a cleansing ceremony to drive out the bad and welcome in the good. People throw beans out their windows and doors, which is believed to ward off evil spirits, or oni, and visit their local shrine or temple. Other Setsubun traditions include eating one bean for each year of your life, and eating eho-maki, a long, uncut sushi roll. The common saying on this day is, “Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!” (“Evil spirits out! Good luck in!”).

February 11 – National Foundation Day – National Foundation Day commemorates the date when Japan’s very first emperor, Emperor Jimmu, ascended the throne in 660 BCE. The Udo Shrine in Miyazaki Prefecture has the original documentation of the holiday in a small museum.

February 14 – Valentine’s Day – In Japan Valentine’s Day is celebrated in a unique way, as it is the women who present gifts to men. There are two types of chocolates they can gift, “Giri-choco” (obligation chocolate), and “Honmei-choco”. Giri-choco is meant to be for colleagues, bosses, and close male friends. “Giri” means obligation hence this Giri-choco has no romance involved. On the other hand, Honmei-choco is given to a boyfriend, lover, or husband with true love. Japanese women often prepare the Honmei-choco by themselves as many of them think it is not true love if they buy ready made chocolate.

March 3 – Hinamatsuri – Also known as the ‘Doll Festival’ or ‘Dolls Day’, occurs on 3rd March each year, to celebrate female children and pray for their continued health and happiness. During the celebration, families display ceramic dolls dressed in the ornate, decorative robes of the ancient imperial court.

March 14 – White Day – On White Day men are supposed to give return gifts to women who gifted them chocolates on Valentine’s Day. More often the colour of the chocolate is white because of the name of the day. Flowers, sweets and other gifts are also popular along with the chocolates.

March – Vernal Equinox Day – Shunbun no Hi is the holiday celebrating the spring (vernal) equinox. Due to the nature of the holiday revolving around astronomical changes the date of the holiday can change from year to year but it will usually fall somewhere between 19 – 22 March. It is a national holiday and the majority of Japanese will have the day off work to celebrate with their families, returning to the homes they originally came from. The day is celebrated to bring in the spring season and to appreciate the nature blooming after a long winter. Some visit their loved ones’ grave sites, to clean it and leave offerings of food or fresh cut flowers.

April 29 – Showa Day – Showa Day honours the birthday of Emperor Showa, the reigning emperor from 1926 to 1989. Sho means “shining” or “bright”, and wa means “peace”, signifying the “enlightened peace” that citizens receive

April / May – Golden Week – Golden Week is a series of four national holidays that take place within one week at the end of April to the beginning of May each year. In combination with well placed weekends, the Golden Week becomes one of Japan’s busiest times. The national holidays that form part of Golden Week are Showa Day, Constitution Day, Greenery Day and Children’s Day

May 3 – Constitution Day – The Constitution of Japan came into force on 3rd May 1947, and to commemorate it, the date is celebrated as a national holiday. Unlike the Meiji Constitution that it replaced, the present Constitution declares that sovereignty lies with the people; the Emperor is “the symbol of the state and the unity of the people” who has no “powers related to government.” It asserts that people have fundamental human rights and renounces war.

May 4 – Greenery Day – As its name suggests, it is a day to commune with nature and to be thankful for blessings. However, in practice it is seen as just another day that expands the Japanese Golden Week period.

May 5 – Children’s Day – Children’s Day is an annual national holiday and is the final celebration in Golden Week. It is a day set aside to respect children’s personalities and to celebrate their happiness. It was designated a national holiday by the Japanese government in 1948.

July 7 – Tanabata – Also known as the “Star Festival”, Tanabata takes place on the 7th day of the 7th month of the year, when, according to a Chinese legend, the two stars Altair and Vega, which are usually separated from each other by the milky way, are able to meet. Because the 7th month of the lunar year roughly coincides with August rather than July, Tanabata is still celebrated on August 7 in some regions of Japan, but mainly on 7th July. A popular Tanabata custom is to write your wishes on a piece of paper, and hang it on a special bamboo tree, in the hope that the wishes become true.

July – Marine Day – Also known as ‘Ocean Day’, it is the only national holiday in July, and held on the third Monday of the month. It commemorates the return of the Meiji Emperor from the sea aboard a steamship called the Meiji Maru, and to ‘express gratitude for the blessings of the sea and wish prosperity for the oceanic country of Japan’.

July / August – Obon – An annual Buddhist time for commemorating  ancestors. It is believed that each year during obon, the ancestors’ spirits return to this world in order to visit their relatives. Traditionally, lanterns are hung in front of houses to guide the ancestors’ spirits, obon dances (bon odori) are performed, graves are visited and food offerings are made at house altars and temples. At the end of Obon, floating lanterns are put into rivers, lakes and seas in order to guide the spirits back into their world. Obon is observed from the 13th to the 15th day of the 7th month of the year, which is July according to the solar calendar. However, since the 7th month of the year roughly coincides with August rather than July according to the formerly used lunar calendar, Obon is still observed in mid August in many regions of Japan, while it is observed in mid July in other regions.

August 11 – Mountain Day – Created as a day to honour and give thanks to the blessings of the mountains, Mountain Day was officially announced in 2014, and first observed in 2016 after campaigns by various mountain-related groups. Mountain Day, or Yama no Hi in Japanese, is to provide “opportunities to get familiar with mountains and appreciate blessings from mountains.

September 1 – Disaster Prevention Day – Disaster prevention day is an annual event dedicated to disaster awareness and training. It’s a day to remember disasters of the past and prepare for the disasters of the future. Government agencies, businesses and schools throughout the country run disaster drills and education campaigns to mark the day.

September – Respect for the Aged Day – Respect for the Aged Day, or Keiro-no-Hi, is a national public holiday in Japan. As the name suggests, it’s a day to honour and respect the country’s elderly citizens. It is held on the third Monday of September each year.

September – Autumn Equinox Day – In Japan, Autumnal Equinox Day, Shubun no Hi, celebrates the arrival of autumn. This public holiday celebrated on September 22-24 depending on the year. People mark it by honouring ancestors and those who have passed away by going to grave sites and holding family gatherings.

September – Silver Week – When a day falls between two national holidays, it becomes an additional holiday known as the citizens’ holiday, and every 5 or 6 years, a weekend will be followed by the Respect for the Aged Day and the Autumn Equinox Day, separated by a Citizens’ Holiday! In reference to the elderly’s grey hair, this period is known as “Silver Week”. Despite its unusual occurrence, many Japanese naturally regard national holidays in September as Silver Week. 

October – Health & Sports Day – This national holiday was launched in 1966 to commemorate the 1964 Summer Tokyo Olympics. Held on the second Monday in October, it is common for schools across Japan to hold Sports Days that begin early in the morning and run until afternoon. Many of these events resemble a mini Olympics with a wide range of events.

November 3 – Culture Day – Bunka no Hi, or Culture Day, is a national holiday officially dedicated to a quest and appreciation for culture, arts and academic discoveries in Japan. It is also the only day most museums throughout the country are open for free!

November 15 – Shichigosan – November 15th is the Shichi-Go-San (“7-5-3”) Festival in Japan, celebrated as a gala day for five-year-old boys and three and seven-year-old girls. On this day, prayers are offered for the healthy and happy futures of the children. As it is not a national holiday, it is generally observed on the nearest weekend. These ages in particular are celebrated both because the ages of three, five and seven are seen as important markers of stages in a child’s growth, and because odd numbers are seen as lucky in Japan.

November 23 – Labour Thanksgiving Day – This national holiday is dedicated to celebrating workers and production, and is a national holiday incorporated in Japan’s Happy Monday System. If the day falls on a Sunday, it is celebrated on the Monday after it. Most businesses remain open on this day, but government services are closed.

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