Like all countries, Japan has a number of unique national holidays that range from those commemorating historically significant dates to religious festivals. We have prepared a list of all of the major ones along with relevant traditions and things to be aware of for each one.
An English calendar showing Japan’s national holidays is indispensable tool for everyday life. Download your free copy here.
1st/ New Year’s Day (shougatsu)
Depending on who you ask, this is the most important holiday of the Japanese calendar. It is common for families to gather on this day and also customary to visit shrines and temples to pay respects to ancestors. Also, business are generally closed from 1/1 - 1/3 to accommodate people visiting family. It has also become popular in recent years to send out New Years’ cards to friends and family, so don’t be surprised if you get one or more from coworkers and friends.
Second Monday/ Coming-of-age day (seijin no hi)
This day, celebrated on the second Monday of January, is the national holiday celebrating all individuals who are turning 20 years of age between April 2nd of the previous year and April 1st of the current calendar year. 20 year olds will often wear formal kimono on this day. If you happen to be visiting your local city office on the morning of this holiday, you may encounter a “seijin shiki” or coming of age ceremony. All 20 year-olds in the local area are invited to attend to be formally recognized as becoming full-fledged members of society.
11th/ National Foundation Day (kenkoku kinenbi)
This day celebrates the accession of the first emperor of Japan, who is reputed to have ascended to the throne on the first day of the first month of the old calendar. After the end of World War II, it was re-established as National Foundation Day in 1966. It is customary for Japanese flags to be hung on this day. That said, you will likely not encounter many other visible displays of patriotism unless you happen to come across right wing political groups (uyoku) who often use this day to make loud displays of patriotism in urban areas.
23rd/ The Emperor’s Birthday (Tennô Tanjôbi)
The Emperor’s Birthday is a national holiday in Japan. Emperor Naruhito was born on 23 February in 1960. On this day, a public ceremony is held at the Imperial Palace where people can go to see the emperor, empress and other members of the imperial family on the balcony and celebrate his birthday with Japanese flags.
20th-21st/ Vernal Equinox Day (shunbun no hi)
The vernal equinox is a public holiday in Japan and is celebrated on either the 20th or the 21st of each year, depending on the astronomical measurements announced the previous year. Prior to 1948, it was known as “Shunki koreisai” and was connected with Shinto religious rituals around visiting the graves of emperors and other imperial family members.
29th/ Showa Day (showa no hi)
This day commemorates the birthday of Emperor Showa (aka Hirohito) who was emperor before the currently reigning emperor Heisei (aka Akihito). It was celebrated as “The Emperor’s Birthday” until 1989 when Emperor Showa died, but was then renamed Greenery Day to celebrate Showa’s love of plants rather than celebrating the Emperor directly. In 2006, Greenery Day was moved to May 4th and this holiday again officially celebrated Emperor Showa’s birthday. It also marks the start of the annual “Golden Week” holiday period. More on that later.
3rd/ Constitution Day (kenpo kinenbi)
On this day in 1947 the Japanese constitution went into effect and this holiday commemorates that event. It continues the annual “Golden Week” holiday.
4th/ Greenery Day (midori no hi)
Officially, this holiday is to celebrate nature and give thanks for blessings. See the above note on April 29th for more history. The reality is that this is just a holiday built into the annual “Golden Week”.
5th/ Children’s Day (kodomo no hi)
This day used to be “Boys’ Day” but was generalized to be Children’s Day by the Japanese government in 1948 as a day to celebrate all children and their happiness. Many families hang carp streamers, one for each boy or child (depending on the family) to celebrate the day. This day marks the end of the “Golden Week”.
No national holidays
Third Monday/ Sea Day or Marine Day (umi no hi)
This holiday was established in 1995, to mark the return of the Emperor Meij from a visit to Hokkaido. Also, as the name indicates, it’s a day to celebrate the sea and all it contains. Many Japanese take beach trips on this holiday.
This holiday was established in 2014, to have “opportunities to get familiar with mountains and appreciate blessings from mountains”. This national holiday is also for expectation to increase the opportunity of vacation time in summer together with traditional but unofficial Obon Holiday in mid-August.
Middle of August/ Bon Holiday (obon)
The Obon festival is a traditional Buddhist festival when many Japanese return home to be with their families. It is one of the biggest holiday and travel periods of the Japanese calendar. There are festivals in many cities with all sorts of events and spectacles going on.
Third Monday/ Respect for the Aged Day (keiro no hi)
This holiday was established in 1966 to give honor and respect to elderly citizens. Japanese media use the day to report on the elderly, especially the oldest people in the population.
22nd or 23rd/ Autumnal Equinox Day (shubun no hi)
This holiday, celebrated on either the 22nd or 23rd of September, marks the autumnal equinox. Like the vernal equinox, it has its roots in a Shinto religious festival.
Second Monday/ Health and Sports Day (taiku no hi)
Like the name says, this holiday celebrates health and sports. It was established in 1966, two years after the 1964 Summer Olympics that were held in Tokyo. On this day each year, most Japanese schools (and some towns and cities) have sports festivals that include many competitions, including tug-of-war, foot races, ball tosses, sack races, various relays, obstacle courses, etc.
3rd/ Culture Day (bunka no hi)
This holiday was established in 1948 to promote the appreciation of culture and the fine arts, replacing the celebration of the birthday of Emperor Meiji. Many towns and prefectures sponsor art exhibits and festivals promoting culture and the fine arts on this day, and most schools have cultural festivals either on or near this day.
23rd/ Labor Thanksgiving Day (kinro kansha no hi)
Like several other holidays noted here, this day was established in 1948 by the Japanese government to commemorate workers’ rights and to show appreciation for labor in general.
No national holidays
We mentioned Golden Week earlier. It is arguably Japan’s biggest national holiday and runs from April 29th – May 5th. Large portions of the population travel during this period and the traffic jams that ensue are of epic proportions. It’s important to note that travel costs, especially airline tickets, but also hotel prices, are much more expensive than other periods of the year.
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