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Sunday, August 3, 2014

List of Japanese Holidays

Maybe because I have a long weekend in Toronto, or maybe because I've had this topic in mind for about six months, let's take a look at holidays in Japan.

For a country most of the non-initiated would assume is kind of stiff, Japan sure does have a butt-load of National holidays, public holidays and festivals... many similar to what the rest of the world celebrates and others that are, well... quite bizarre

Up until 1998 and again in 2001 when it moved some holidays around, public holidays fell wherever the hell they fell, whether it was a Saturday or a Thursday.... but since those two years, laws were amended to move a lot of those holidays to fall on a Monday, thereby creating the three-day weekend... or what some call a long weekend.

This new system is called the Happy Monday System ((ハッピーマンデー制度 or phonetically Happi Mande System). Really.

I was going to list the holidays first by National, then Public and then by Festival, but what the heck... let's go chronologically, and I'll just add a notation or description.

  • January 1: Ganjitsu (元日) is Near Year's Day. Now you might think that the Japanese would just celebrate the so-called New Year with a single day holiday, but they don't. Ganjitsu actually is the beginning of Shogatsu, the New Year's Season. This National holiday actually runs from December 29 - January 3, and thanks to commercialism and greed, nowadays shops and supermarkets are open.
  • Second Monday of January: Seijin no hi (成人の日) is Adult's Day. This is one of 13 Public Holidays in Japan and is essentially a coming of age ceremony for everyone who turned 20-years-old between the same date last year and this date. Cities and Towns have public celebrations to mark the age of maturity. The now-mature people dress up in their best formal clothes and have a celebration at a Japanese temple to receive the blessing of a Buddhist monk. I'm simplifying things here. Anyhow, until the year 2000, this holiday was always celebrated on January 15, but thanks to the Happy Monday System, it now falls on a Monday, ensuring people of a long weekend.
  • February 3: Setsubun (節分) is a Festival known as the Bean Throwing Ceremony where beans are thrown in a home or temple or shrine, to get rid of any evil spirits or disease that might have snuck in. As part of the Spring Festival (春祭) known as Haru Matsuri, the bean-throwing (豆まき) or mamemaki is done by priests and regular folk alike, while uttering the Japanese phrases: "Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi! (Demons out! Luck in!)". I believe the person throwing the beans throws the same number of beans as their age.
  • February 11: Kenkoku kinen no hi (建国記念の日) or Foundation Day is a Public Holiday that commemorates the founding of Japan. Meant to make the Japanese more patriotic, (it must be working), it was established in 1966. This national holiday celebrates the anniversary of the day when the first emperor Jimmu was crowned in 660 BC.
  • February 14: Valentine's Day (バレンタインデ) is just like Valentine's Day in the US (for example), except for one little thing. This is now the day that women give presents to men. Men do not give presents at this time (see March 14). The date is not a day off, but is celebrated. It was introduced to Japan in 1936. Women are generally expected to give chocolates to a man (something thought up by chocolate manufacturers, I am sure). Giri-choko ('giri' means 'obligation', while 'choko' is short for chocolate) is given by female employees to male employees. Tomo-choko is given to friends, while Honmei-choko is given to boyfriends and/or husbands.
  • March 3: Hina Matsuri (雛祭り) is Japan's Doll Festival. It's actually a festival that celebrates the Japanese Royal Family. Families will set up some wood platforms in their home, with multiple tiers, each covered with red carpets, upon which are placed wooden dolls representing the Emperor and Empress in Heian-era ( 794 AD to 1185 AD) clothing, plus other court personnel, musicians, ministers, samurai warriors and more. It is also known as the "girl's festival."
  • March 14: White Day (ホワイトデー) is the second phase of Valentine's Day... the day Men give presents to women. Introduced in 1978, the whole Valentine's/White Days debacle is a way to protect the man from giving a valentine present to some one he likes, and not getting anything in return. The way White Day is set-up, is now a man can find out on February 14 which women care enough about him to give him a Valentine. One month later on White Day, he now knows just how many presents and to whom they should go to. White Day is celebrated in Japan and South Korea, but since the men get an extra month to learn who their 'sweetheart' is, have to give larger presents. Sanbai gaeshi (三倍返し) means 'triple the return', and men must give a present to a woman that was triple the 'value' of what they had received on Valentine's Day. No one get's the day off.
  • March 20: Shunbun no hi (春分の日) is Vernal Equinox Day, and is a Public Holiday. Quite simply put, this is the day the Japanese are supposed to show off their dedication to the 'admiration of nature and of all living things'. It was first celebrated in 1948. During the week of the spring equinox (ohigan), Japanese visit graves of their ancestors to celebrate shunbun no hi.
  • March 21 and September 21: Higan (彼岸) is a Buddhist holiday, whereby memorial services for are held for those that passed away... usually family members, with services held at the local temple during the seven days preceding the vernal and autumnal equinox. People visit their family graves during this period. Memorial services for the dearly departed are held at temples during the seven days before the vernal and autumnal (September 21) equinox.
  • April 29: Showa Day (昭和の日, Shōwa no Hi), and has had a few names in the past. Nowadays, it celebrates late Emperor Shōwa. The Showa-era which ran between 1926 and 1989 celebrates (still) Emperor Showa. Until 1989, this date was a Public Holiday. When he died in 1989, it was celebrated as Greenery Day on this date, but after that, Greenery Day was moved to May 4.
  • April 29 - May 5: Golden Week (ゴールデンウイーク), is a major holiday/vacation period for the Japanese. It consists of four public holidays within a week, including the aforementioned Shōwa Day, Constitution Day (憲法の日), Greenery Day (みどりの日) and Children's Day (子どもの日). It is usually included with a weekend. During this golden week, Japanese folk will travel all around the country to visit their family. Everything is booked long in advance, and savvy or disgusting travel folk usually jack up the price of everything at this time. I avoided it, by not traveling around Japan at this time.
  • May 3: Kenpo Kinenbi (Constitution Day) is a national holiday that was put into effect in 1948 to celebrate the new Japanese Constitution ratified in 1947. The holiday was created to remember the new constitution. It is part of the Golden Week (see April 29-May entry).
  • May 4: Greenery Day (みどりの日) was introduced in 1989. It was held on April 29 until the year 2007, when it was moved to May 4, in order to celebrate the blessings and the beauty of nature. It is part of the Golden Week (see April 29-May entry).
  • May 5: Children's Day (こどもの日, Kodomo no hi) was originally Boy's Day (March 3 was Girl's Day), but is now part of Golden Week (see April 29-May entry). As Boy's Day, it was part of the Dragon Boat Festival (端午の節句, tango no sekku), when any family with a boy would fly koi or carp (鯉 carp) streamers (鯉のぼり, and dress up the home with miniature samurai items like helmets (兜, kabuto), armor (鎧, yoroi) or swords (刀, katana). The carp/koi is one of the young forms of the dragon, according to tradition, and when it is seen flowing against the wind, it is representative of the struggles the fish must go through until it can reach the next stage of development... a dragon.. or in the case of the young boys, an adult male.
  • July 7: Tanabata Matsuri (七夕祭り) is the Star Festival, that revolves around a Chinese story brought to Japan in 755AD. A princess and shepherd fall in love, but were forbidden to meet, except for that day of the year tanabata, meaning the "evening of the seventh" when the two stars Kengyū (牽牛, shepherd) and Orihime (織姫, "Weaving Princess") meet in the Milky Way (天の川 amanogawa). On this date, children write poems or wishes on streamers of paper and attach them on special tanabata trees. The two stars, in question - the star-crossed lovers, if you will  - are Vega and Altair and really do meet on this day.
  • Third Monday of July: Marine Day (海の日, Umi no hi) is a public holiday, established in 1995 to celebrate the oceans, and its importance for the Japanese nation. Basically, this holiday celebrates the return of Emperor Meiji from a trip to Hokkaido in a boat in 1876 - thus the celebration of the ocean. Yeesh.
  • August 13-16: Obon Matsuri (お盆), is known as the Lantern Festival, but it is so much more. It is a time to pay homage to one's ancestral spirits. During the Obon days, the spirits of the ancestors return to Earth from Hell. Food and drink are left at the grave site to encourage the souls to visit. They are blind, but can smell... Anyhow, when the living go to the grave site to clean the area, the spirits are supposed to come and follow them home. Paper lanterns are also lit in front of the house to help guide them. When the three days back on Earth is over, the spirits are supposed to return to Hell (There is no Japanese Heaven). At this time, paper lanterns floated on rivers to indicate the way back to the underworld.
  • Third Monday of September: Respect For The Aged Day (敬老の日, Keirō no Hi), is a public holiday established in 1966 to pay tribute to the elderly and hope for longevity. It was originally celebrated on September 15, but was changed to the 3rd Monday of September in 2003.
  • September 21: Higan (彼岸) is a Buddhist holiday, whereby memorial services for are held for those that passed away... usually family members, with services held at the local temple during the seven days preceding the vernal and autumnal equinox. People visit their family graves during this period. Memorial services for the dearly departed are held at temples during the seven days before the vernal (March 20) and autumnal equinox.
  • September 23: Autumnal Equinox Day (秋分の日, Shūbun no hi), is a public holiday established in 1948 to pay respect to those who have died. Just as Spring Equinox Day (see March 20), people visit the graves of their ancestors and pay their respects. There's a lot of respect for the ancestors in Japan. It almost makes one wish they did that when they were alive.
  • Second Monday of October: Health & Sports Day (体育の日, Taiiku no Hi), is a public holiday that was first held on October 10 to commemorate the beginning of the Tokyo Olympics in 1964. It was changed to its current date in 2000 to enjoy sports and observe a healthy lifestyle.
  • October 31: Halloween (ハローウイーン) is a North American tradition that has within the past 30 years become a 'thing' in Japan, thanks to a lot of gaijin inviting the Japanese to their Halloween parties. Japanese kindergarten kids will celebrate it in school, and adults in clubs. Kids do not ask for treats. I am sure treats of a different kind are distributed in clubs.
  • November 3: Culture Day (文化の日, Bunka no Hi) is a celebration to promote culture and the love the Japanese have for peace and freedom. On this day, awards are given to selected people for their achievements in peace and culture by the government and schools. Before 1948, this date celebrated the birthday of Emperor Meiji (明治節, Meiji-setsu. I'm guess anything celebrating an Emperor in Japan following WWII was considered a bit taboo by the ruling American forces over seeing Japan at that time.
  • November 8: Andoryu-sensei Matsuri is a made-up day to celebrate my birthday. It should be a holiday somewhere, but it's been a piece of crap for the last few years. No... let's forget it. Tear down the statue.
  • November 15: Shichi-Go-San Matsuri (七五三祭り), is one of my favorite Japanese holidays because it's fun to say. It is the 7-5-3 Festival, and is the date for all boys aged 3 and 5 and girls aged 3 and 7 to be blessed at the local shinto shrine to extend thanks for their good health and pray for their future blessings.
  • November 23: Kinro Kansha No Hi (勤労感謝の日) is a Japanese national holiday that honors labor and those who labor. It's why it translates into Labor Thanksgiving Day.
  • December 23: Emperor's Birthday (天皇誕生日, Tennō no Tanjōbi), is a floating holiday, sort of. The current Japanese Emperor's birthday is December 23. But, when a new Emperor comes around, this holiday will change to his birth date. It is a national holiday. 
  • December 25: Christmas (クリスマス) is a non-Japanese tradition that is undertaken by some Japanese, but not many. You'll see Christmas decorations in stores and everywhere, but it's not a major gift-giving time of the year. It's just a day for family... you know... what it should be.
  • December 31: New Year's Eve (大晦日, Ōmisoka) is not a national holiday celebrating the end of the year... as we all know, Japan celebrates it's new year at the same time as China does - in February of March. For 2015, it will be February 19. It's a bit of western tradition brought to Japan that has not fully embraced it.
And that is that. I think I need a holiday. I wonder how Cambodia is this time of year?

Andrew Joseph


  1. Typo on July 7 - Tanabata Festival, not Tananata Festival.

    1. Hi... why am I just seeing this now 3+ years later. Thank you for taking the time to let me know. :)