Every country has its own set of national holidays. Not every country will have the same one. Japan, just like every other aspect of the country, has its own unique set of Japanese holidays that are only heard and celebrated in the country.
Japanese holidays can range anywhere from the standard New Year’s Day and Children’s Day to the traditionally rooted ones like Coming of Age Day and Emperor’s Birthday. Discover all you need to know for each type of public holiday — including fun facts and origin — in this ultimate guide to Japanese holidays!
January: New Year’s Day
This is the only Japanese holiday that is in line with the rest of the world: New Year’s Day, also known as Ganjitsu (元日) in Japanese, starts off Shougatsu (正月, new year’s season) which is usually the first three days of the year. It is one of the most significant holidays of the whole year — unlike the western countries where people party in silly hats and popping confetti, the Japanese have their own way of celebrating New Year’s.
Most of the Japanese head over to a nearby shrine on the night of New Year’s Day to pray for the new year. Some wake up early in the morning to see the first sunrise of the year. There’s also a tradition of eating a special combination of food called osechi-ryouri (お節料理) which consists of sweet, sour and dried foods.
The Japanese also write handwritten letters to family and friends, wishing them a great new year. Children also receive money as a New Year’s gift — what a treat!
January: Coming of Age Day
Not too long after the first Japanese holiday is the Coming of Age Day (Seijin no Hi in Japanese, 成人の日). This falls usually on the second Monday of the month of January, and it celebrates those who have reached the age of adulthood in Japan: 20 years old.
These celebrations usually take place at local and prefectural offices where these young adults gather and make speeches. The women are usually wearing their full kimono called the “furisode” (振袖). Even though the men are supposed to be in their formal attire known as the “hakama” (袴), it’s more common to see them in western-style suits.
Of course, what’s a celebration of youth without a night out drinking — that’s exactly what these adults take part in afterward!
February: National Foundation Day
The National Foundation Day, known as the Kenkoku Kinen no Hi (建国記念の日) is celebrated on every 11th of February. This is the day where Emperor Jimmu supposedly came to the throne — it’s calculated as the first day of the month of the lunar calendar. The Japanese are extremely proud of this day as it reflects their patriotism.
February: The Emperor’s Birthday
In the past few years, the Emperor’s Birthday (Tennou Tanjoubi, 天皇誕生日) was celebrated on the 23rd of December. A new emperor has been crowned since, and now the Emperor’s Birthday is celebrated on the 23rd of February.
This is a special day for all the Japanese as it’s only one of two occasions the public can enter the inner grounds of the Imperial Palace. The Emperor as well as Empress along with the members of the imperial family wave hello to the crowds from the palace balcony.
March: Vernal Equinox Day
The Vernal Equinox Day — Shunbun no Hi (春分の日) in Japanese — is usually around the 19th of March to the 22nd of March. It initially was a Shintoist-related event but now it is celebrated as the Spring Equinox. This is when the number of daylight hours and night hours are the same.
This holiday signifies the official change of seasons from winter to spring, and the Japanese use this time to visit their loved ones’ graves, pay homage to their ancestors and clean their homes as a way to renew their own lives — kind of like spring cleaning. It’s a very family-focused holiday for the Japanese.
April: Showa Day
In April, the Japanese celebrate the birthday of Emperor Shouwa Hirohito who was the reigning emperor from 1926 to 1989. This Japanese holiday is called the Showa Day — Shouwa no Hi (昭和の日) in Japanese.
This holiday is the reflection of the turbulent years during the Showa Era where there were constant Japanese invasions of foreign countries, World War II and a few other political events that happened during the time.
Showa Day is also the start of Golden Week (ゴールデンウィーク), a week-long holiday for the Japanese and also the busiest time of the year for travel in Japan. This week consists of back-to-back holidays starting with Showa Day and ending with Children’s Day.
May: Constitution Memorial Day
Part of the Golden Week holiday is the Constitution Memorial Day known as the Kenpou Kinenbi (憲法記念日). Falling on the 3rd of May each year, this holiday celebrates the new constitution after World War II that was created.
May: Greenery Day
Japan has a day to celebrate nature, the Greenery Day (Midori no Hi, 緑の日). Originally, this holiday was created to acknowledge Emperor Showa’s love for plants and nature without having his name in the official holiday title.
Now, it’s just another holiday that forms up the Golden Week holiday.
May: Children’s Day
Wrapping up the Golden Week holiday is Children’s Day (Kodomo no Hi, 子供の日) that falls on the 5th of May. On this day, you’ll be able to see tons of carp fish flags hung on poles at every home. Even though it’s called Children’s Day, this Japanese holiday is not only meant to celebrate the children but also the mothers and fathers.
The flags are meant to represent each family” black carp at the top represents the father, red carp represents the mother and any carp below are for the children.
July: Marine Day
Just like how there’s Greenery Day to celebrate nature, there’s Marine Day to celebrate the ocean. Umi no Hi (海の日) is a huge celebration for the Japanese — Japan is an island nation that’s surrounded by the ocean, after all.
This holiday comes at the end of the rainy season, so a lot of Japanese families will take advantage of the summer sun to go out and enjoy a day at the beach.
July: Sports Day
Taiiku no Hi (体育の日) was usually celebrated in October and was called “Health-Sports Day”, but from 2020 onwards, it shortened to just “Sports Day” and will be held in July instead.
The original reason for the holiday was to commemorate the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo as well as encourage sports and active lifestyle. The change of date is because of the Tokyo Olympics 2020 that was supposed to be held in July 2020.
On this day, schools often hold their annual sports events called the Undoukai (運動会) where there will be regional games of every sports — from track and field to tug of war. It’s an entire day of festivities surrounding any and all sports!
August: Mountain Day
The Japanese have the Greenery Day and the Marine Day — of course, let’s not forget about the mountains. Yama no Hi (山の日) is Mountain Day that, as it suggests, celebrates the mountains and the blessings they bring. It falls in early August, depending on the year.
September: Respect for the Aged Day
If they have Children’s Day that celebrates the young, why not celebrate the old as well? Keirou no Hi (敬老の日) is also known as Respect for the Aged Day. This Japanese holiday always falls on the third Monday of the month of September, and represents the deep respect the people of Japan have for their elderlies.
September: Autumnal Equinox Day
Just like how Vernal Equinox Day signifies the change of winter to spring, Autumnal Equinox Day (Shuubun no Hi, 秋分の日) signifies the change of summer to autumn. This holiday falls two days after the Respect for the Aged Day.
In some lucky years, these holidays can make up a 5-day long weekend holiday — sounds familiar, right? When this happens, it’ll be known as a Silver Week (シルバーウィーク), and just like Golden Week, travel prices will skyrocket through the roof!
November: Culture Day
Bunka no Hi (文化の日) is a day to promote culture and academics. Culture Day provides the opportunity for creative minds out there to present their works at art exhibitions as well as win awards and scholarships. This Japanese holiday falls on the 3rd of November every year.
November: Labour Thanksgiving Day
Labour Thanksgiving Day, known as Kinrou Kansha no Hi (勤労感謝の日) falls on the 23rd of November and it’s a day dedicated to giving thanks to one another — much like the Western thanksgiving.
The origin of this holiday dates back centuries ago when it used to be an ancient harvest festival — the Emperor would dedicate the year’s harvest to the gods.
The Japanese are all about appreciation and respect — it shows, big time, in their types of national holidays. From dedicating days to acknowledge nature, ocean, and mountains to the ones that highlight the values of young and old alike, there’s nothing quite like the Japanese holidays.