National Holidays in Japan
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.