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Fascinating Japanese holidays to add to your calendar

5 min read
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Respect for the Aged Day or Keirō no Hi is a unique Japanese holiday that celebrates the elders of a community. The beautiful holiday is observed through meaningful cultural traditions, although its main purpose is similar to that of Grandparents Day. The national holiday is not the only holiday unique to Japanese culture; learn more about the fascinating events observed in Japan below…

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Second Monday of January – Coming of Age Day

Coming of Age Day honours each person that has turned 20 years old over the past year and officially become an adult allowed to drink, smoke, gamble, and to drive legally. Women wear beautiful kimono, the men wear suits, and they head to a city office to take part in a ceremony in which the mayor of the city congratulates them. There is then a drum performance and the new adults celebrate with family and friends, by enjoying delicious foods, or even by going shopping. Many people take the day off to take part in events taking place around their city.

February 11 – National Foundation Day

This national holiday celebrates the foundation of Japan and the accession of its first emperor on 11 February 660BC. Customs include raising the national flag and reflection on the history of Japan. However, the holiday is considered controversial and overt expressions of patriotism are unlikely to be seen.

March 3 – Dolls’ Festival/Girls’ Festival

Also known as Hinamatsuri, this holiday is observed to celebrate female children and pray for their continued health and happiness. During the holiday, families display ceramic dolls dressed in the ornate, decorative robes of the ancient imperial court. It is quite an elaborate custom with many dolls arranged on a platform in specific orders. These dolls are taken down immediately after the festival, as superstition says that leaving the dolls past March 4 will result in a late marriage for their daughter.

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March 14 – White Day

On Valentine’s Day (February 14) it is the women who present gifts to men. Women typically give two types of chocolate; one is for friends, colleagues, and bosses, whilst the other is for a boyfriend, lover, or husband. The latter is often made by hand to show that it is given with true love. On White Day, men return the favour by gifting white chocolate, candy, flowers, or other gifts to the women who gifted them chocolates.

March 20 or 21 – Vernal Equinox Day

This public holiday (also known as spring equinox) marks the beginning of astronomical spring. Traditionally, the spring and autumnal equinoxes were considered days to pay respects to past members of the imperial family. Today, it is often marked by visiting family graves and holding family reunions.

April 29 – Showa Day

Showa Day is the first holiday of Golden Week, a period when four national holidays fall within seven days. Showa Day honours the birthday of Emperor Hirohito (posthumous name Showa), the reigning Emperor before, during, and after World War II. Many cities and towns throughout Japan have large festivals throughout Golden Week, with many people taking advantage of their time off work and the weather heating up.

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May 3 – Constitution Memorial Day

This national holiday celebrates the proclamation of the 1947 Constitution of Japan. It is an important day for many Japanese people due to the many rights that were given to Japanese citizens by the new constitution.

May 4 – Greenery Day

Also known as Arbor Day or Midori no hi, this day falls between Constitution Memorial Day and Children’s Day. According to Japanese holiday law, a day that falls between two holidays must also be a holiday. This holiday is considered a day to commune with nature and to be thankful for blessings, acknowledging Emperor Showa’s love for nature. Commemorative plantings of trees are held around the country as well as many other events that bring people close to nature.

May 5 – Children’s Day

Children’s Day is set aside to celebrate children’s health, happiness, and future success, and to express gratitude towards mothers. This holiday used to be known as Boys’ Day but now celebrates all children. To recognise this holiday, families fly carp-shaped streamers outside their homes and display traditional dolls inside. Mochi rice rakes are eaten and events highlighting children are held throughout the country.

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July 7 – Star Festival

Also known as Tanabata, Star Festival originates from the Chinese Qixi Festival. It celebrates the meeting of deities Orihime and Hikiboshi once a year on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month, with legend saying that the Milky Way separates these lovers. In Japan, the day is celebrated by writing wishes, sometimes in the form of poetry, on small pieces of paper and hanging them on bamboo branches with other decorations. The bamboo and decorations are usually burned or sent down the river once the festival has completed. Large-scale celebrations are often held along shopping malls and streets, where you will spot large, colourful streamers. Tokyo Disneyland also celebrates with a parade featuring Mickey and Minnie Mouse.

July 17 – Sea Day

Also Known as Marine Day, Ocean Day, or Umi no hi, Sea Day only became a nationally recognised holiday in 1996. The day was established to express gratitude for the gifts of the sea, honour its importance, and pray for the prosperity of Japan as a maritime nation. Originally held on 20 July, the date was changed to fit in with the Happy Monday holiday system. Many celebrate by heading to the beach, and water shows, sports, and competitions are held at national aquariums.

August 11 – Mountain Day

Mountain Day is the newest of Japan’s long list of public holidays, established to honour and give thanks for the blessings of the mountains. It is said that August was chosen to celebrate this day as the kanji symbol for eight looks like a mountain, whilst 11 looks like two trees. With over 73% of Japan’s terrain being mountainous, this holiday seems quite fitting. Many celebrate by spending time connecting with, exploring, and appreciating the mountains through walking, hiking, or climbing.

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Third Monday in September – Respect for the Aged Day

The third Monday in September marks Respect for the Aged Day or Keiro no Hi. Similar to Grandparent’s Day, this national holiday celebrates the elders of the community.

Find out more about Respect for the Aged Day here.

September 22, 23 or 24 – Autumnal Equinox

Known as Shubun no Hi, the exact day is determined from astronomical measurements. In the past, the traditional way to celebrate was by giving thanks to the deities for a successful harvest. Now most Japanese people pay respects to deceased family members and hold family reunions. If Respect for the Aged Day falls on 21st September and the Autumnal Equinox falls on 23rd September, then 22nd September is declared a holiday, creating ‘Silver Week’.

Second Monday in October - Sports Day

Taiiku no hi commemorates the opening of the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo and is held annually to promote active lifestyles. Many communities and schools celebrate with a sports festival including track and field events, long jump, sack races, and obstacle course relays.

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November 3 – Culture Day

Bunka no hi honours traditional Japanese culture, with the Order of Culture Awards Ceremony taking place at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. Throughout the country, festivals and parades celebrate traditional Japanese customs. If the day falls on a weekend, the following Monday will be a public holiday.

November 15 – 7-5-3 Day

Although not a national holiday, Shichi-go-san or 7-5-3 Day celebrates children aged 7, 5, and 3. Parents of a 3 year old or 5 year old son or of a 3 year old or 7 year old daughter will take them to a local Shinto Shrine to pray for the well-being of their children. Odd numbers such as 3, 5, and 7 are considered to be lucky and in ancient times these ages were associated with certain milestones in the life of a Japanese child. During the era of samurai, children would have their heads shaved from birth and were only allowed to grow their hair from the age of 3. At age 5, boys would wear a hakama (traditional dress) for the first time, and at age 7, girls would begin using an obi sash to tie their kimono instead of a cord.

December 21 or 22 – Winter Solstice

The date changes but the shortest day of the year is called toji and celebrates the beginning of true winter. The day is celebrated by eating a winter squash called kabocha and taking a yuzuyu bath where citrus yuzu fruits are placed in warm baths and hot springs. Kabocha is believed to protect against colds and yuzuyu is said to warm the body and soothe skin.

December 23 – Emperor’s Birthday

There are only two days in the year on which one can enter the Imperial Palace grounds; the current Emperor’s birthday and January 2nd, the day of the Emperor’s New Year Greetings. This holiday is a moveable one, the date dependant on the birthday of the current reigning emperor. The Imperial Family will appear on the balcony and the crowd will wave Japanese flags and cheer for them.

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We love the sound of some of these traditional holidays and may have to adopt them as our own (we hope our bosses are ok with that)!

Tell us which day you think we should all start celebrating, head to our Facebook.

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