On Japanese National Holidays

The weather’s been terrible this week. After a few weeks of warm and sun and beautiful spring time, now we have this:

Stormy weather, from my veranda.

I just hope it clears up before my family comes next week.

But the bleak weather is a boring subject for a blog post, so instead, with Golden Week on the horizon, I’m going to talk about Japanese national holidays. Not to be confused with festivals and unofficial ones, which are many. Religion in Japan is really complicated. In 1947, the Occupation drafted a new constitution in which a lot of things about this country were seriously changed, and religion was a really key point. They abolished Shinto’s place as the state religion and, even more significant, revoked the divinity of the emperor. For the first time pretty much ever, there was a total severance of religion and state. Thing is, that left a gaping hole where Shinto observances had been, so they created a bunch of secular holidays to fill in. But it’s kind of messy and not as clean a break as it’s made to sound.

Two quick notes before we proceed. The first is that 日/hi means “day” and is pronounced “hee” (not like the English greeting). The second is that I used block quotes to format it, so it looks nicer, but the text is all mine. They aren’t actually quotes. I did, however, do some internet research because I didn’t know all of this off the top of my head. Google is our friend. And now, on to the 15 holidays currently on the calendar!

1. 元日/Ganjitsu/New year’s Day: January 1

As is the case in most, if not all, of Asia, the start of the new year is the most important holiday. It’s a time for family, people generally do a big cleaning, mochi is eaten, and temples are visited. It’s really a multi-day thing, but the first is the official day.

2. 成人の日/Seijin no hi/Coming of Age Day: 2nd Monday of January

The Japanese age of majority is 20 and 成人の日 is to celebrate all the people who have turned 20 in the past year. Boys these days usually wear western suits, but most girls still wear furisode (usually rented because they’re extremely expensive). There are ceremonies at local offices, people party, that sort of thing.

3. 建国記念の日/Kenkoku Kinen no Hi/National Foundation Day: February 11

建国記念の日 is to celebrate the founding of the nation and the start of the imperial line by the emperor Jimmu. The legend, according to the Nihonshoki (the second oldest Japanese book and the oldest official history), is that he established a capital city in Yamato in the 7th century BC. So basically it’s to celebrate having a really old country.

4. 春分の日/Shunbun no Hi/Vernal Equinox Day: around March 20

This was originally a Shinto ancestor worship festival, but they had to end that, so it became a day for celebrating living things and nature. Or something.

5. 昭和の日/Shōwa no Hi/Showa Day: April 29

This was the emperor Hirohito’s birthday, but since the Shōwa Period became the Heisei Period back in 1989, the Emperor’s Birthday… day has changed. Now 4/29 is a day for reflecting on all the stuff that happened during the Shōwa Period, like World War II.

6. 憲法記念日/Kenpō Kinenbi/Constitution Memorial Day: May 3

It’s the day the 1947 constitution took effect. That’s it, really.

7. みどりの日/Midori no Hi/Greenery Day: May 4

Nature appreciation day? It’s basically Arbor Day.

8. こどもの日/Kodomo no Hi/Children’s Day: May 5

It’s a day to celebrate children. Families with boys fly banners shaped like koi. Until 1948, it was Boy’s Day, and there was a separate Girl’s Day (which is still unofficially celebrated; it’s the doll festival in early March), but now it’s for all children. Holidays 5 through 8 make up Golden Week, a period with a ton of holidays all together.

9. 海の日/Umi no Hi/Marine Day: 3rd Monday of July

A day for appreciating the sea, apparently. It’s a modern one, from the 90s.

10. 敬老の日/Keirō no Hi/Respect for the Aged Day: 3rd Monday of September

Just what it says on the tin.

11. 秋分の日/Shuubun no Hi/Autumnal Equinox Day: around September 23

Like 春分の日 in the spring, it replaced a Shinto festival. Except the purpose of 秋分の日 is basically the same as the old holiday: remember the dead and honor your ancestors. It’s just not an imperial thing anymore.

12. 体育の日/Taiiku no Hi/Health and Sports Day: 2nd Monday of October

A day for… sports and fitness, basically. It was originally put in place to commemorate the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics, in 1964.

13. 文化の日/Bunka no Hi/Culture Day: November 3

Apparently this one is also related to the 1947 constitution. It commemorates the day the constitution was first announced and is meant for celebrating peace and freedom, and promoting culture. Prior to the 40s, it was the Emperor Meiji’s birthday, but they’re not necessarily related.

14. 勤労感謝の日/Kinrō Kansha no Hi/Labor Thanksgiving Day: November 23

It’s for praising labor and giving thanks, more or less. In the past, 11/23 was an imperial harvest festival, but that was the kind of thing that the constitution axed, so they came up with something arbitrary to replace it.

15. 天皇誕生日/Tennō Tanjōbi/Emperor’s Birthday: December 23

The birthday of the current emperor, Akihito. That’s all it is, really. This is a holiday that changes with the emperor, for obvious reasons.

And there you have it! Japan’s current holidays. I think stuff like this is interesting because it sort of shows where priorities lie. What’s considered important enough to celebrate. Also? Japan has an awesome number of free days off. Seriously, 15 is a lot. It’s fantastic.

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4 thoughts on “On Japanese National Holidays

  1. Oh you shouldn’t feel too bad about the weather. Its snowing today in Minnesota haha!

    I have experienced all the national holidays except 3,4,5,10,11 and 12. Now I just have to see them all (though it has never really meant much to me besides being able to hang out with my friend/things being more crowded XD)

    • Snow? That sounds awful.

      Honestly, Japanese national holidays are nothing special (as I’m sure you’ve noticed, the festivals are way more interesting). I just like them because I get the day off, ha.

  2. I would love to have that many days off! I also love how some of these holidays come across (at least to me) as completely pointless remnants of the old religious ones, or just for funzies because Japan wants time off. At least, that is how it seems from the names and basic descriptions and what I could find online.

    I didn’t know they combined boys’ day and girls’ day. (That or I forgot.) That is interesting!

    • It’s great, though we are going into a long stretch with none after next week. But, yeah, some of them are pretty silly.

      こどもの日 is sort of treated like boys’ day still (a neighbor’s veranda has carp banners because they have a son), but it’s officially for all children. But Japan is big on unofficial holidays, so there sort of still is a holiday for girls in March. It’s kind of weird.

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