Below is a listing with a brief explanation of the official government holidays that are observed in Japan, as well as special observances that are not legal holidays. As in America, don’t plan on getting any business accomplished on legal holidays; however, stores and shops are usually open. Legal holidays are marked with an (H).
The list of Japanese National Holidays and Festivals
1 January – Ganjisu – New Year’s Day (H)
New Years in Japan has a much deeper significance than we place on it in America. The New Year’s Eve observances are not nearly as party-oriented as ours, and the time just before midnight is usually quiet and reverent. Most Japanese will visit their local shrine or temple at midnight. Actually, the time leading up to January first can be more significant than the day itself.
Second Monday in January (date varies) – Seijin no Hi – Coming-of-Age Day (H)
This day honors young people who will turn 20 years old any time between 2 April of the previous year and 1 April of the current year. This is the age when Japanese are considered adults. Each community holds a ceremony a civic center, park, or temple. This is a legal holiday that is a significant event in Japanese society.
3 February – Setsubun – Coming of Spring
This is not a holiday in Japan but a popular observance. Traditionally, it prepares for the coming of spring in an old calendar, but also is used to purify the home and expel evil spirits. On the night of Setsubun, households perform a “Mame Maki (Bean Throwing)” ceremony. They use roasted soy beans and toss them about house and also out the doors and windows. They say “Oni was soto! Fuku wa uchi!” “Out with the goblins and in with good fortune.” Folks then eat the same number of beans as their age. It is believed that this will ward of sickness during the year. This has become more of a ritual than a firm belief and is still practiced for the fun it entails.
11 February – Kenkoku Kinen no Hi – National Foundation Day (H)
This day commemorates the legendary rule of Japan’s first Emperor, Jimmu.
14 February – Valentine’s Day
This is not a holiday, of course but very much like our Valentine’s Day with a twist. In Japan, girls give gifts to boys on Valentine’s Day but boys don’t reciprocate until a month later on White Day. Chocolate is the gift of choice, and it is everywhere in the days leading up to the 14th.
3 March – Hina Matsuri – Doll Festival
This is not a holiday, but it is widely observed. While you may see displays of dolls in traditional garb, families usually observe the day quietly in the home. This festival is for girls and usually entails displaying finely crafted dolls places on a tiered pedestal. More elaborate displays will include miniature furniture, artificial plants, model weapons, and even an oxcart. This practice dates from the early Edo period (1600 – 1868).
14 March – White Day
This is not a holiday, but a popular observance that allow the boys to return Valentine’s Day favors. And, once again, chocolate is the gift of choice.
21 March – Shumbun no Hi – Vernal Equinox Day (H)
This is one of two days each year where the day and night are of equal length. This is the central day of a Buddhist memorial service and is traditionally a day for visits to family graves.
Hanami – Cherry Blossom Viewing
The blossoms of the flowering cherry tree (Sakura) typically signal the coming of spring throughout Japan. These trees grow wild in all regions of the country, but are also cultivated because of the beauty and delicate nature of the blossoms. Just about any park in the country will boast at least a few Sakura. The Sakura begin to bloom as early as February in Okinawa and as late as mid-May on Hokkaido. In the Utsunomiya area, they typically bloom in late April.
Cherry blossom viewing is among the most popular gatherings in the country. People from all walks of life meet in public parks with picnic lunches, beer and sake, and portable Karaoke machines to celebrate this colorful and significant occasion. Because of the fragile nature of the blossoms, they do not decorate the trees for long. It is only a matter of days after they burst open that the petals will fall to the ground. The slightest breeze creates a shower of petals similar to show flurries of the recently ended winter.
The period between 29 April and 5 May is known as Golden Week. Schools and most businesses close on the 29th and then from the 3rd through the 5th. With weekends included this makes for a very nice spring break.
29 April – Midori no Hi – Green Day (H)
This is a day for nature appreciation. Japan is a land of natural beauty that is admired and protected by all its people. This was the birthday of the last Emperor, Hirohito, and was a holiday for that reason until his death. In 1989, it was changed to its present name in honor of Emperor Hirohito’s love of and attention to nature.
3 May – Kempo Kinembi – Constitution Day (H)
This day commemorates the implementation of Japan’s modern constitution, which became effective in 1947.
4 May – Kokumin no Hi – National People’s Day (H)
This day is dedicated to all the people of Japan as a group.
5 May – Kodomo no Hi – Children’s Day (H)
This day is set aside for traditional prayers for the health and happiness of all the country’s children.
20 July – Umi no Hi – Ocean Day (H)
This is a more recently declared holiday and recognizes the love the late Emperor Hirohito had for the sea as well as the contribution the ocean makes to the Japanese way of life.
15 September – Keiro no Hi – Respect for the Aged Day (H)
This day honors Japan’s elderly and shows respect for their longevity. It was established to commemorate the enactment of the law concerning welfare for the aged.
23 September – Shubun no Hi – Autumnal Equinox Day (H)
This is the second time each year that the day and night are of equal length. Visits to family graves and family reunions occur today. This is the central day of a Buddhist memorial period.
2nd Monday in October – Taiiku no Hi – Sports Day (H)
People enthusiastically celebrate good physical and mental health through physical activity on this day. This holiday was established to commemorate the Tokyo Summer Olympics of 1964. Schools will hold races and other forms of competition in which all students participate and entire families attend and sometimes take part in some of the events.
3 November – Bunka no Hi – Culture Day (H)
The love of freedom and wish for continued peace as fostered by Japan’s current Constitution are celebrated with cultural activities.
23 November – Kinro Kansha no Hi – Labor Thanksgiving Day (H)
On this day, people traditionally express gratitude to each other for the blessing that their labors have produced and for the fruits of that labor.
23 December – Tenno Tanjobi – Emperor’s Birthday (H)
This is the celebration of the birth of the current Emperor, Akihito.