A great way to learn more about the culture of a country you are visiting is by participating in its festivals and holidays. Although traveling in Japan during holidays can be difficult, due to busy streets and congested trains, it can still be a very rewarding and insightful experience.
In this article, we describe everything you need to know about Japanese holidays, including basic information, a quick guide, and a monthly breakdown of the important national holidays and events every year.
Japan is known worldwide for its culture of intense work. Japanese people work hard for long hours with few breaks. One good thing about working in Japan, however, is that there are many public holidays, when companies give workers time off to enjoy the seasons and spend time with their families.
In total, Japan has 16 national holidays per year, as well as some other special events and festivals. Each of the holidays is unique and celebrated differently.
If you want to learn more about Japanese culture, then find out about which holidays are happening around the time you visit the country. If any occur during your stay, this may mean a great opportunity, but also larger crowds at attractions or busier transportation.
Japanese Holidays by Month
Now that you've seen the quick guide to Japanese holidays, if you want to know more details about each holiday and how it is celebrated, read the information below.
To make it easier to find which holidays will happen when you are visiting Japan, we have organized them by the month in which they occur. Every month of the year includes at least one holiday, except for June.
Arguably the most important holiday in Japan, New Year's (Jan 1-3), is also the first holiday of the year. This is a national holiday and most workers will have time off. Many businesses will close for the celebrations.
New Year's in Japan is a family celebration involving good food, a New Year’s temple visit, catching the first sunrise of the year, and presenting children with money in envelopes.
It is a quiet and peaceful event, leaving the past year behind and making good wishes for the year ahead.
Another January holiday is Coming of Age Day. It has ancient origins in Japanese culture and is meant to celebrate all young men and women who have recently turned 20.
During this holiday, all 20-year-olds in the country dress up in traditional clothes and attend ceremonies in which everyone celebrates with alcohol and laughter.
The first holiday in February is the Beginning of Spring (Feb 3) or Setsubun. This is not a national holiday, so many workers will not have time off, but it is celebrated at shrines and temples across the nation.
Setsubun is a celebration of the changing of the seasons and regarded as a time for getting rid of evil spirits. In order to chase evil spirits away, soybeans are thrown at the doors of homes.
If you are in Japan at this time, you can join crowds of people in the streets catching soybeans thrown by geisha (in Kyoto) or religious figures. It’s good luck to eat any soybeans you catch.
The next February holiday is National Foundation Day (Feb 11). This was created to celebrate the history of Japan. On this day in 660 BC the first emperor of Japan was crowned. It is also the date when the construction of the Meiji Temple was proclaimed.
During the holiday, there is a parade at the Meiji Jingu Shrine in Tokyo, and many people attend the festivities.
The first holiday in March is the Doll Festival (Mar 3), during which families with young girls wish for their continued health and happiness. Families celebrate by purchasing beautiful dolls made by Japanese craftsmen, dressing the dolls in ornate costumes, and displaying them along with peach blossoms in their houses.
The most important holiday in March, throughout Japan, is Spring Equinox Day (March 20 or 21). This celebrates the transition between seasons, on the day on which the length of day and night are equal. The holiday is based on the lunar calendar, so it is celebrated on a slightly different day every year.
Most Japanese people celebrate Spring Equinox by visiting the graves of their ancestors to clean them and by eating botamochi, which are sweet rice cakes covered in bean paste. If you are in Japan at this time you can give them a try. They are readily found at supermarkets.
The only national holiday in April is Showa Day (Apr 29), celebrated as the country's national day. This is the first day of Japanese Golden Week, which is a week-long string of holidays when Japanese people travel and visit their families.
Showa Day is celebrated to remember the birthday of the Showa emperor, the longest-serving emperor in modern Japan. He was emperor from 1926 until his death in 1989.
In the month of May, the Golden Week holiday continues, and almost everyone in Japan has a week-long vacation.
The first holiday this year in May is Constitution Memorial Day (May 3), which was established after WWII and is meant to help people remember the constitution. This day often opens up debate among Japanese people about the positives and negatives of the current constitution.
The second holiday is Greenery Day (May 4), on the birthday of the former Emperor Showa. That emperor was famous for his love of plants and wildlife, so this day celebrates all of nature, and Japanese people are encouraged to be grateful for the plants and animals around them.
Parks and gardens in Tokyo have free admission on this day, but they draw large crowds.
The last holiday in Golden Week is Children's Day (May 5), one of the most historic holidays in the country, having begun during the Edo period (1603-1868). It is meant to help parents appreciate the uniqueness of their children, and to wish young people luck as they become adults.
On this day, city zoos and museums offer discounts or free admission to children.
The first holiday in July is not a national holiday but rather a festival called the Star Festival. It starts on July 7th, when the weaver star and cow-herder star meet. They only meet once a year, on the 7th day of the 7th lunar month. Festivities and events are held on multiple days throughout July and early August.
The next holiday is Marine Day, on the third Monday of July. This was recently created to celebrate the ocean, and animals that live in it. During this holiday, the beaches in Japan become crowded, as people go out to relax and enjoy the long weekend. Many water-based events happen throughout the country.
The first holiday in August is Mountain Day (Aug 11). This is the newest national holiday in the country. During this time special events are convened in mountainous regions, and people are encouraged to be grateful for the beauty of the mountains, as well as to explore them.
After Mountain Day, there are no other national holidays in August. There is, however, the Buddhist Festival of Obon (Aug 13-15).
The purpose of this festival is to remember deceased ancestors. Many Japanese people take time off work to return to their ancestral homes and clean the graves of their ancestors. Spirits of ancestors are believed to return to their family altars at this time.
The first national holiday in September is Respect for the Aged Day, on the third Monday of the month every year. This holiday is meant to celebrate and give thanks to the elderly.
During this time many parks and zoos across Japan allow anyone over 60 to enter for free. Younger family members send cards and flowers to their older relatives, and some go to visit.
An important holiday in September is Autumn Equinox Day (Sept 22 or 23). It is the only other holiday in Japan apart from Spring Equinox to be based on the lunar calendar.
The holiday occurs on the day the sun crosses the equator, marking the end of summer and the start of autumn. Autumn Equinox is celebrated similarly to Spring Equinox, in that many people return to clean the graves of their ancestors.
Because the holidays in September often happen in the same week it is sometimes called Silver Week and many Japanese people travel at this time.
The only October holiday in Japan is Health and Sports Day, which falls on the second Monday of October. As the name implies, it’s meant to promote health awareness and playing sport .
Health and Sports Day started in 1964 during the Olympic Games in Tokyo and today many schools and organizations convene sports festivals on this weekend.
There are three main holidays in November and the first is Culture Day (Nov 3), promoting the celebration of culture and the love of peace and freedom. It is great for lovers of art and education, as many institutions hold educational events, and museums and galleries have free admission.
The second holiday of the month is Seven-Five-Three (Nov 15), during which girls who are 3 and 7 years old and boys who are 3 and 5 years old are all celebrated, and their families pray for their continued growth, health, and happiness.
The final holiday of the month is Labor Thanksgiving Day (Nov 23), just like Labor Day in other countries, when workers are honored for doing their jobs. This used to be an ancient Japanese holiday celebrating agriculture, and still today there are many events during the holiday to honor farmers and the harvest.
Although the holiday to celebrate the emperor's birthday also used to take place in December, because the current emperor is abdicating this year, the holiday will not be celebrated in 2019. Starting in 2020, the holiday will change to the day of the new emperor’s birthday, which will be February 23.
Therefore, the only holiday in December this year will be New Year's Eve (Dec 31), which is not a national holiday but is still celebrated across the country. Most people start taking off work for New Year’s around December 28 and travel back to their hometowns, so it is common for public transport and shopping areas to be very busy from December 28-31.
Compared to Western countries, the celebration of New Year's Eve in Japan is pretty quiet and family-focused. Many people spend New Year's Eve visiting the closest temple, to take part in religious celebrations and wait for the ringing of bells as the new year begins.
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