Dean and Sue Zemke

Sapporo, Hokkaido JAPAN

Holidays in Japan

Public Holidays -- If a national holiday falls on a Sunday, the following Monday will also be a holiday. If a day lies between two national holidays, the day will also be turned into a holiday.

The national holidays are listed as such. Other celebrations are also listed, but these are not national (public) holidays.

January 1 (national holiday

New Year (shogatsu):
This is the most important holiday in Japan.  While only January 1 is designated as a national holiday, most businesses shut down from January 1 to January 3, and families typically gather to spend the days together.  Years are traditionally viewed as completely separate, with each new year providing a fresh start.  January 1 is a very auspicious day, best started by viewing the new year's first sunrise (hatsu-hinode), and traditionally believed to be representative for the whole year that has just commenced.  Therefore, the day is supposed be full of joy and free of stress and anger, while everything should be clean and no work should be done.  Homes and entrance gates are decorated with ornaments made of pine, bamboo and plum trees, and clothes and houses are cleaned before the new year. It is a tradition to visit a shrine or temple during shogatsu (hatsumode).  Various kinds of special dishes are served during shogatsu. They include osechi ryori, otoso (sweetened rice wine) and ozoni (a soup with mochi).

A very popular custom is the sending of New Year's cards, which are specially marked to be delivered on January 1. It is not uncommon for one person to send out several dozens of cards to friends, relatives and co-workers.  Shinnenkai or "New Year Parties" are held in January.  They are social gatherings of company workers, business and other friends that usually take place in restaurants.   They are not family gatherings, and should not be confused with the New Year celebrations that take place during the Shogatsu holidays (January 1-3) and which are traditionally family events.

Second Monday of January (national holiday)
Coming of Age (seijin no hi):
The coming of age of 20 year old men and women is celebrated on this national holiday.  Twenty is the age considered as the beginning of adulthood.  It is also the minimum legal age for voting, drinking, and smoking.  Celebrations are held nationwide in every town with most of the people turning 20 participating in formal dresses.

February 3
Beginning of spring (setsubun):
Setsubun is not a national holiday, but celebrated at shrines and temples nationwide.  In modern days, the most commonly performed setsubun ritual is the throwing of roasted beans around one's house and at temples and shrines across the country. When throwing the beans, you are supposed to shout "Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!" ("Devils out, happiness in").  Afterwards you should pick up and eat the number of beans, which corresponds to your age.

February 11 (national holiday)
National Foundation Day (kenkoku kinenbi):
According to the earliest Japanese history records, on this day in the year 660 BC the first Japanese emperor was crowned.

February 14
Valentine's Day:
In Japan, women give chocolates to men on Valentine's Day. It is not a national holiday.

February 23 (national holiday)
Emperor's Birthday

March 3
Doll's Festival (hina matsuri):
Also called girl's festival.  On this day, families with girls wish their daughters a successful and happy life.  Dolls are displayed in the house together with peach blossoms.  The doll festival has its origin in a Chinese custom in which bad fortune is transferred to dolls and then removed by abandoning the doll on a river.

March 14
White Day:
The opposite of Valentine's Day: Men give cakes or chocolates to women. It is not a national holiday.

around March 20 (national holiday)
Spring Eqinox Day (shunbun no hi):
Graves are visited during the week (ohigan) of the Equinox Day.

April 29 (national holiday)
Showa Day (Showa no hi):
The birthday of former Emperor Showa.  Before 2007, April 29 was known as Greenery Day (now celebrated on May 4). Showa Day is part of Golden Week, a collection of four national holidays within seven days.

May 3 (national holiday)
Constitution Day (kenpo kinenbi):
A national holiday remembering the new constitution, which was put into effect after the war (WWII).  It is part of Golden Week, a collection of four national holidays within seven days.

May 4 (national holiday)
Greenery Day (midori no hi):
Until 2006, Greenery Day was celebrated on April 29, the former Emperor Showa's birthday, due to the emperor's love for plants and nature. It is now celebrated on May 4 and is part of Golden Week, a collection of four national holidays within seven days.

May 5 (national holiday)
Children's Day (kodomo no hi):
Also called boy's festival.  The Boy's Festival (Tango no Sekku) is celebrated on this day.  Families pray for the health and future success of their sons by hanging up carp streamers and displaying samurai dolls, both symbolizing strength, power and success in life.  It is part of Golden Week, a collection of four national holidays within seven days.

July/August 7
Star Festival (tanabata):
Tanabata is a festival rather than a national holiday.  Tanabata, also known as the "star festival", takes place on the 7th day of the 7th month of the year, when, according to a Chinese legend, the two stars Altair and Vega, which are usually separated from each other by the milky way, are able to meet.  Because the 7th month of the year roughly coincides with August rather than July according to the formerly used lunar calendar, Tanabata is still celebrated on August 7th in some regions of Japan, while it is celebrated on July 7th in other regions.  One popular Tanabata custom is to write one's wishes on a piece of paper, and hang that piece of paper on a specially erected bamboo tree, in the hope that the wishes become true.

Third Monday of July (national holiday)
Ocean (Marine) Day (umi no hi):
A recently introduced national holiday to celebrate the ocean. The day marks the return of Emperor Meiji from a boat trip to Hokkaido in 1876.

August 11 (national holiday
Mountain Day (yama no hi):
Newly introduced in 2016, this national holiday celebrates mountains.

July/August 13-15
Obon is an annual Buddhist event for commemorating one's ancestors. It is believed that each year during obon, the ancestors' spirits return to this world in order to visit their relatives.  Traditionally, lanterns are hang in front of houses to guide the ancestors' spirits, obon dances (bon odori) are performed, graves are visited and food offerings are made at house altars and temples.  At the end of Obon, floating lanterns are put into rivers, lakes and seas in order to guide the spirits back into their world. The customs followed vary strongly from region to region.  Obon is celebrated from the 13th to the 15th day of the 7th month of the year, which is July according to the solar calendar. However, since the 7th month of the year roughly coincides with August rather than July according to the formerly used lunar calendar, Obon is still celebrated in mid August in many regions of Japan, while it is celebrated in mid July in other regions.  Although this is not officially a holiday, many offices, including some government offices, may be closed at this time.  Some companies provide their employees with a week's holiday at this time.

Third Monday of September (national holiday)
Respect for the Aged Day (keiro no hi):
Respect for the elderly and longlivity is celebrated on this national holiday.

around September 23 (national holiday)
Autumn Equinox Day (shubun no hi):
Graves are visited during the week (ohigan) of the Equinox Day.

Second Monday of October (national holiday)
Sports Day (taiiku no hi):
On that day 1964, the Olympic games of Tokyo were opened.

November 3 (national holiday)
Culture Day (bunka no hi):
A day for promotion of culture and the love for freedom and peace. On the culture day, schools and the government award certain persons for their special, cultural activities.

November 15
Seven-Five-Three (shichigosan):
A festival for children, Shichigosan is not a national holiday.  "Shichi Go San" means "Seven Five Three."  Girls of age three and seven and boys of age three and five are celebrated on Shichigosan, and it is prayed for their good health and growth.  On November 15 or the closest weekend, the young people visit a Shinto Shrine dressed up in kimono.  Odd numbers are considered lucky numbers. Long candies in bags that are decorated with turtles and cranes are given to the children. The candy, the crane, and the turtle, all symbolize longlivity.

November 23 (national holiday)
Labour Thanksgiving Day (kinro kansha no hi):
A national holiday for honoring labour.

December 24-25
Christmas is not a national holiday, but it is celebrated by an increasing number of Japanese.  The traditional Japanese Christmas food is the Christmas cake, usually made of sponge cake, strawberries and whipped cream.  Chicken is also often eaten.  Christ's birth is not at all a focus of celebrations, except for Christians.

December 31
New Year's Eve (omisoka):
December 31 is not a national holiday.  On New Year's eve, toshikoshi soba (buckwheat noodles), symbolizing longevity, are served. A more recent custom is watching the music show "kohaku uta gassen", a highly popular television program featuring many of Japan's most famous J-pop and enka singers in spectacular performances.  Bonenkai or "Forget-the-year Parties" are held throughout December.  They are social gatherings of company workers, business and other friends that usually take place in restaurants. They are not family gatherings.