Translated byHilary Keyes
Writer, translator, designer, weirdo.
All about Japan's National Holidays - sightseeing areas and public transportation are especially busy on these days, so those who aren't fans of crowds should take care. There are also many interesting events and activities on these holidays too!
Every year in Japan there are 16 national holidays. On these days, both sightseeing spots and shopping centers are crowded with people. If you are the type that hates crowds or would like to see the attractions in relative peace, then knowing which days to avoid would be very helpful, wouldn't it?
In this article you will find the dates and information about all of Japan's national holidays for 2017-2018!
*We will also be introducing longer holiday periods where crowds can be expected that are not technically national holidays in this article.
1) There are some activities and events that can only be experienced on national holidays. If you would like to participate in these, then it would be best to plan your sightseeing around these dates in particular.
2) If a national holiday falls on a Sunday, then the following Monday is a substitute holiday - please do not make the mistake of thinking that, as it is not an 'official national holiday', the sightseeing places will not be crowded. These substitute holidays can be exceptionally busy.
3) National holidays do not fall on the same day every year. There are cases where the date is decided and there are cases where holidays may take place 'on the third Monday of the month', so please confirm the dates of these holidays each year.
1. New Year's Day (January 1st)
2. Coming of Age Day (January 9th)
3. Foundation Day (February 11th)
4. Vernal Equinox Day (March 20th)
5. Showa Day (April 29th)
6. Constitution Memorial Day (May 3rd)
7. Greenery Day (May 4th)
8. Children's Day (May 5th)
9. Marine Day (July 17th)
10. Mountain Day (August 11th)
11. Obon (around August 13th-16th)
12. Respect for the Aged Day (September 18th)
13. Autumn Equinox Day (September 23rd)
14. Tokyo City Holiday (October 1st)
15. Health and Sports Day (October 9th)
16. Culture Day (November 3rd)
17. Labor Thanksgiving Day (November 23rd)
18. Emperor's Birthday (December 23rd)
19. New Year's Holiday (about December 28th-January 4th)
20. Know the Holidays, Know When to Sightsee
Rather than the lunar New Year, as celebrated in China, Japan celebrates the new year in January in a big way. Many shopping streets and boutiques may be closed from January 1st through to the 3rd, so please be careful if you are visiting during this time. And as most people will be performing hatsumode, (the first visit to a shrine or temple of the new year), most famous shrines and temples will have lines of people from the main building all the way to the gate and even beyond waiting to get in.
This day has been celebrated in Japan since 1948, as it is the first day of the year under the solar calendar.
New Year's Day 2018: Monday, January 1st
Celebrated the second Monday in January, Coming of Age Day is the day on which young men and women who have reached 20 years of age (from the past year until this day) are considered to be legal adults. Celebrations are held in cities and towns all across Japan for these young people. Urayasu, Chiba prefecture, home to the Tokyo Disney Resorts, is especially busy at this time as there are even Coming of Age Day celebrations held here, so visitors should expect the park to be exceptionally busy.
Coming of Age Day 2018: Monday January 8th
Foundation Day, every February 11th, celebrates the day that Japan became a nation. Meiji Shrine, right by Harajuku Station, has a celebratory parade on this day and as many people come to watch and participate in this event, this area can become quite crowded.
Foundation Day 2018: Sunday, February 11th (Monday February 12th will also be a holiday)
According to the earliest records of Japanese legends, this is the date that the first Emperor of Japan, Emperor Jimmu, was enthroned.
As Japan is located in the northern hemisphere, the days become longer as the summer draws nearer, and the nights become longer when winter approaches. The Vernal Equinox is the day on which the length of daylight hours and night hours is roughly equal, and is the day that the seasons change. The exact date of this event is roughly decided and varies slightly year to year as it is based on the movement of the sun and the earth.
Although it does not exactly have anything to do with sightseeing, most Japanese people celebrate this day by visiting and cleaning up their family graves and eat Japanese sweets called botamochi (sweet rice cakes covered in red bean paste) on this day. If you visit a supermarket or shopping street at this time you are sure to find botamochi for sale, so please give it a try. During this season the plum blossoms are also typically in bloom, so there are many plum blossom events taking place as well.
Vernal Equinox 2018: Wednesday, March 21st
Showa refers to one of the eras of Japanese history, and Showa Day was enacted as a day on which to reflect back on the Japan of those times. On this day, admission to the Showa Memorial Park in Tachikawa, Tokyo is free, which means that it is quite crowded with visitors.
Showa Day 2018: Sunday, April 29th (Monday, April 30th is also a holiday)
This day was originally celebrated as the 124th Emperor of Japan, Emperor Showa's birthday, but after his passing and until 2006, this day was celebrated on the same day as Greenery Day.
This is one of the days that makes up the spring break known as Golden Week in Japan and as such there are many different events that take place on this day all across Japan. Every sort of sightseeing place, the bullet trains, roadways and all means of transportation are extremely crowded at this time. If there aren't any events that you are particularly interested in seeing at this time, it is better to avoid traveling in Japan during this time.
If you would like to know more about Golden Week, please take a look at this article: Japanese Encyclopedia: Golden Week.
Constitution Memorial Day 2018: Thursday, May 3rd
This day celebrates when the new Constitution of Japan was enacted on May 3rd, 1947.
This holiday was organized with the hopes that it would be a day in which people could show their appreciation and gratitude for the natural world around them, and is connected to both Constitution Memorial Day and Children's Day in the Golden Week holiday. In the hopes of people spending the day truly enjoying the wonders of nature, all national parks across Japan are free to the public, and in some metropolitan areas, the zoos and city gardens are free as well.
To learn more about Japan's national parks, please check out the Ministry of the Environment's English website.
Greenery Day 2018: Friday, May 4th
Children's Day is also part of Golden Week, and is a day on which people honor the individuality of their children, value their children's happiness and show their appreciation for the mothers of their children. As such, metropolitan zoos, and other areas designed with children in mind often have either free admission or deeply discounted fees. If you are traveling with children, be sure to check prices etc in advance in order to get the best deals.
During this time you will see carp banners decorating many places in order to pray for the continued health and growth of children, a tradition that has continued since ancient times. Other traditions include eating rice cakes wrapped in oak leaves and other Japanese sweets.
Children's Day 2018: Saturday, May 5th
The turning point of the seasons, this was the middle or 5th seasonal festival, that was known as Boy's Day originally. From about the 12th century onward, it became a seasonal festival in which to pray for and celebrate the growth and health of children in general.
Held the 3rd Monday of every July, Marine Day is a day on which the maritime nation of Japan prays for and celebrates the continued prosperity and bounty of its waters. As the name indicates, there are many marine and water-based events held across the nation; in particular the Marine Self-Defense Forces bases across Japan (in Yokosuka, Sasebo, Kure, Maizuru, Ominato and other cities) have open base days (the dates and schedules of these events change yearly).
Incidentally, as Nara prefecture is the only landlocked region of Japan, on this day they instead celebrate "Nara Prefecture's Mountains and Rivers Day".
Marine Day 2018: Monday, July 16th
This day was created to celebrate the return date of the cruise that Emperor Meiji took on a popular steamship in 1876.
Established in 2014 and first celebrated in 2016, Mountain Day is the most recent national holiday in Japan. Intended to give people the chance to experience climbing the mountains and give thanks for their blessings, in 2016 for its first celebration the Japanese Alps in Nagano prefecture and Mt. Takao in Tokyo held some events. As this was the first year of this national holiday, there may be more events in the future and others that may come and go; it is simply too new to known any concrete details at present.
Mountain Day 2018: Saturday, August 11th
Although not technically a national holiday, during this time many people take a brief summer break in order to return to their hometowns. Much like Golden Week and the New Year's holidays, the trains, roads and other means of public transportation are quite crowded during this week.
The total number of days off taken varies from person to person and region to region, as does the time in which these holidays are taken. Depending on when August 15th falls, many will try to include the nearest weekend in their holidays as well, so please refer to a calendar when making travel plans during this time.
Obon 2018: from about Monday, August 13th to Thursday, August 18th
The 3rd Monday in September every year is Respect for the Aged Day. To celebrate and give thanks to the elderly, national parks and zoos across Japan will give free entry to the aged. For the majority of establishments, the standard base age that must be met starts from either 60 or 65 years old.
Respect for the Aged Day 2018: Monday, September 17th
Opposite to the spring Vernal Equinox is the Autumn Equinox, and much in the same fashion as the Vernal Equinox, people take this holiday to go and visit their ancestral graves with family.
Autumn Equinox Day 2018: Sunday, September 23rd (Monday the 24th is also a holiday)
Although not a national holiday, this is a sightseeing rich, Tokyo-specific holiday. On this day many of the cultural institutions in the metropolitan area have free admission, which means that a lot of these sightseeing areas become extremely crowded.
Tokyo City Holiday 2018: Monday, October 1st
Dedicated to familiarizing the nation with sports and to cultivating an awareness of healthy minds and bodies, this national holiday finds gymnasiums and public sports grounds busy with sports-related events and activities.
Health and Sports Day 2018: Monday, October 8th
This day commemorates the start of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, which began on October 10th, 1964. Although Health and Sports Day was initially held yearly on the 10th of October, now it is celebrated on the 2nd Monday of October instead.
Held annually on November 3rd, Culture Day is a holiday on which people treasure the concepts of freedom and peace, and promote the advancement of culture. Both before and after this day art festivals sponsored by the Japanese Agency for Cultural Affairs are held, and many museums and galleries have free admission and original events of their own.
One particularly unique event is a cultural festival held at Tokyo's Fuchu Prison. People might at first be a bit afraid when hearing of a festival held at a prison, but this is quite a safe event where many of the locals gather together, enjoy meals cooked in the prison, and even purchase items made by the prisoners themselves.
Culture Day 2018: Saturday, November 3rd
The new Constitution of Japan was officially proclaimed on November 3rd, 1946 - Constitution Memorial Day takes place on May 3rd, as it is the day that the new constitution began being enforced.
This is a holiday on which labor and manufacturing work is esteemed and celebrated. During this season the fall colors in many sightseeing areas are particularly popular and crowded as well.
Labor Thanksgiving Day 2018: Friday, November 23rd
This day was originally the date that the Emperor would perform a ceremonial offering of newly-harvested rice to the gods, in celebration and thanks for the abundant harvest and to pray for the same in the coming year. As rice has been a staple food in Japan for centuries, this holiday is distinctly Japanese in nature.
This is the present Emperor, Emperor Akihito's birthday. On this day, many people come to the Imperial Palace in Tokyo's Chiyoda ward to congratulate and offer birthday wishes to the Emperor. With the strict traffic regulations and crowded conditions around the palace during this time especially, unfortunately it is better to avoid visiting the Imperial Palace area at this time.
With this national holiday falling the day before Christmas, it is not unusual to find that many Japanese people will take off these holidays together. Or if that isn't possible, it is also not unusual to find that some people will celebrate Christmas on the 23rd instead, meaning that many shopping areas and restaurants will be very crowded at this time.
Emperor's Birthday 2018: Sunday, December 23rd (Monday the 24th is also a holiday)
Although not public or national holidays, public transportation and most shopping areas across Japan will be particularly crowded starting from December 28th to January 4th for the New Year's holidays.
At the end of the year the majority of people return to their hometowns, meaning that it may be difficult to take or get tickets for many means of long distance travel within Japan, and as many people are doing their end of the year cleaning and preparations for the New Year, most shopping areas and business districts will become crowded too.
So, what do you think of Japan's many national holidays? Were you surprised at how many there are?
When you are making plans to travel in Japan, taking care that your vacation days won't coincide with Japanese holidays will make it much easier to know which days it would be best to visit certain sightseeing areas and to compare how crowded these places may be.
If you know what to expect at certain times of year, you will have a much smoother and more pleasant trip than if you don't plan ahead.