Translated by Verity Lane
A Basic Guide to National Holidays in Japan
In this article we have compiled a list of national holidays in Japan, as well as brief descriptions of things to watch out for.
Written by MATCHA
One has to be careful that shops normally open for business suddenly close during national holidays. In this article, we have compiled a list of national holidays, together with various national holiday-related tidbits you need to keep in mind when traveling in Japan.
The Different Types of National Holidays
In Japan, there are a total of 15 national holidays. From 2016, a new holiday will be added to the list, making it an overall total of 16 days. Let's have a closer look at what each of these holidays entail.
New Year's Day (January 1st)
Image courtesty of Teruhide Tomori
New Year's Day, is the first national holiday of the year. It is a three-day holiday that lasts until January 3rd. It is known as sanganichi in Japanese, which basically means "three days". People pray over this period in the hope of a good year, with many people practising hatsumode (the first visit to a shrine or temple of the new year).
Coming of Age Day (The Second Monday of January)
Coming of Age Day is a day that celebrates a child's safe arrival into adulthood (age 20 in Japan). People celebrate youngsters turning 20 from April of the previous year, until April 1st of the current calendar year. Coming of Age celebrations take place all over the various regions of Japan.
National Foundation Day (February 11th)
The national holiday that commemorates Japan's foundation. It is a day where Emperor Jinmu, the first emperor of Japan, assumed the throne. It is also the day where Japan's former constitution was modernized, and the Meiji Constitution was announced, making it the first modern constitution in Asia.
Vernal Equinox Holiday (Mar 20th or 21st)
This is one of the days in both Spring and Autumn where the length of the day and night are almost the same. The date is set by the National Astronomical Observatory in February of the previous year.
Showa Day and the Showa Emperor's Birthday (April 29th)
Image courtesy of Eugene Huang
Showa Day was originally a national holiday that celebrated the birth of Emperor Showa (1926-1989). The new emperor who succeeded the throne left the holiday name as it was.
Constitution Day (May 3rd)
Constitution Day is a day that commemorates the enforcement of the current Japanese constitution, referred to as the "Constitution of Japan".
Greenery Day (May 4th)
Greenery Day is a national holiday where the Japanese nation can get closer to nature.
Children's Day (May 5th)
Image courtesy of Toshi KMR
Children's Day is an event which is held to drive away evil spirits, and wish for the healthy growth and development of children. It was originally brought over from China as the Boy's Day (Tango no Sekku in Japanese). Carp banners, known as koinobori, are flown during this period.
※1……Koinobori：A banner that takes on the shape of a carp fish. The banner is flown in the garden, while wishing for health and success for boys.
Marine Day (The Third Monday of July)
Japan is a marine state that's surrounded by the ocean. This particular national holiday gives thanks to the blessings of the sea, and also celebrates the nation's prosperity.
Mountain Day (August 11th)
This is a day to give thanks to the blessing of mountains, and also a chance to become familiar with them.
Respect for the Aged Day (The Third Monday of September)
Respect-for-the-Aged Day is a national holiday that gives respect to elders who have contributed at length to Japanese society; it is also a chance to pray for their long lives.
Autumn Equinox (One of the Days Between September 22nd-24th)
Similar to the Vernal Equinox Day, the overall length of the day and night are almost the same. Many people visit graves during this period as a way of remembering the dead and showing respect to ancestors.
Sports Day (The second Monday of October)
This national holiday originates from the Tokyo Olympics back in 1964. It's a day where the people of Japan get to become familiar with sports, and also foster a healthy body and mind.
Culture Day (November 3rd)
This holiday was originally a day to celebrate the birth of Emperor Meiji who reigned from 1867 until 1912. The current constitution of Japan was announced around this day, so now it has become a holiday to promote culture, and to show a fondness for freedom and peace.
Labor Thanksgiving Day (November 23rd)
This holiday is to show thanks to workers, and respect to labor. Originally it was a harvest festival that showed appreciation to the gods of the autumn crop.
The Emperor's Birthday (December 23rd)
This day is to celebrate the current Emperor's birthday.
Things to Consider about Japanese National Holidays
If your travel plans coincide with any of these Japanese national holidays, there are a few points to consider. Let us take you through a few.
On national holidays, the transport service schedule for trains, buses etc are different than on weekdays, operating on the weekend timetable. Please be sure to check the schedule beforehand.
The next point we need to cover is ATMs. On national holidays the ATM operating times are shorter, and the handling fee may also be higher like on weekends. It might come to a point where you cannot take out any cash, so please be sure to withdraw any money on weekdays while you can.
There will be times outside of national holidays or long successions of days off when many Japanese people are also on their travels . The following seasons below are busy seasons in Japan. If you're visiting at the time, please be aware of crowded tourist spots and transport, fully booked hotels, and the fluctuation in prices during this time.
Image courtesy of Yoshikazu TAKADA
・The end of the year to the start of the new year.
・The end of March to the beginning of April. It is a time when students are progressing to the next stage of education, and people are starting new jobs, so transport and hotels are packed.
・The end of April to the beginning of May is an extra long succession of national holidays called "Golden Week".
・From mid-July to the end of August. As children and students are on their summer holidays, tourist facilities, restaurants, and just about everywhere else gets completely crowded.
・National holidays that have a fixed date, and fall on a Sunday or coincide with another holiday, are moved to any day other than a Monday. They then become a substitute holiday, which often leads to a succession of days off.
Well, that's it for this article covering Japanese national holidays. I hope you manage to set out a great schedule and enjoy your travels around Japan!