• Life & Culture

Japan National Holidays (Days Off) – Guide & Calendar Dates

A group of Japanese festival dancers perform with hand fans and bright, traditional clothing

If you’re moving to Japan to work abroad, you have lots of new public holidays to look forward to.

 

Often national holidays will mean a day off work, and if a holiday falls on a Sunday the following Monday is a holiday too. Add some dates to your calendar to experience Japanese culture and unique customs.

 

Japan has more national holidays compared to somewhere like the UK – you may feel like there’s a public holiday for everything! With days celebrating seasons and different aspects of nature, it’s a great time to appreciate your surroundings. However, if you work in retail or hospitality, you may still be working.

 

Here are some of our favourite holidays to enjoy in Japan, and how to make the most of them.

An illustrated calendar on the months of the year, with Japanese national holidays

New Year’s Day – January 1st

In a nutshell: Japan’s most important festival

Frequency: Annually

Established: 1873

 

New Year’s is a big deal in Japan, and many businesses close until the 4th of January. Similar to Christmas in some countries, people exchange gifts and cards, play once-per-year games, and enjoy traditional dishes.

 

The holiday is all about starting the new year with a fresh slate. Many families clean the house, hold “year forgetting parties”, and try to spend New Year’s Day worry-free. Bells are often rung in temples at midnight.

 

We recommend: Gathering to watch the first sunrise of the year with your friends and family.

Coming of Age Day – January 10th

In a nutshell: Celebrating adulthood

Frequency: Second Monday of January

Established: 714

Congratulating young people turning 20 years old, this holiday includes formal ceremonies and fun after-parties. If you reached 20 between April 2nd of the previous year and April 1st of this one, it’s a celebration for you!

Coming of age day is an acknowledgement of the new rights (and also responsibilities) of being an adult in Japan. Young people will often hire formal clothes or kimonos and enjoy new freedoms like drinking.

We recommend: Celebrating with new adults at a live music performance at larger gatherings.

National Foundation Day – February 11th

In a nutshell: Akin to USA’s Independence Day

Frequency: Annually

Established: 1966

 

Japan’s National Foundation Day celebrates the founding of Japan as a nation. According to legend, this was by Emperor Jimmu in 660, but this merges with folklore. It replaced Empire Day, which was abolished after WW2.

 

There is little pomp and ceremony around Japan’s National Foundation Day – you won’t find big celebrations or displays of patriotism. It’s used as a day to quietly reflect on Japan’s establishment, meaning and future.

 

We recommend: See the National Flag raised and watch the speech by the Prime Minister of Japan.

Emperor's Birthday – 23rd February

In a nutshell: Naruhito’s birthday

Frequency: Annually

Established: On becoming emperor

 

One of two occasions where the public are allowed inside the palace grounds, the emperor’s birthday has been celebrated for generations. Naruhito, the current emperor, appears on a balcony to receive birthday wishes.

 

It’s customary to cheer “Banzai!”, or “ten thousand years!” of long life. Many thousands of people (mostly adults and the elderly) pay their respects each year, although this is the second year the event has been cancelled.

 

We recommend: Visit the Tokyo Imperial Palace – you’ll be given a small flag of Japan to wave.

Spring Equinox Day – 21st March

In a nutshell: The start of spring

Frequency: 19th – 22nd March

Established: 1948

 

Depending on astronomy, spring equinox (or vernal equinox) can fall anywhere between the 19th and 22nd of March. It marks the start of spring, and one of two times in the year when the day and night hours are equal.

 

Traditionally, it is a time for Japanese people to visit the graves of ancestors and hold family reunions. It’s an opportunity to clean the house, take up a new hobby, or just to celebrate nature and the coming of spring.

 

We recommend: Appreciate plants blooming after winter or spend time with your family.

Special Calendar Date: Golden Week

A collection of four national holidays in Japan, Golden Week starts at the end of April and ends at the beginning of May. It’s one of the busiest times to visit Japan, alongside Obon and New Year, with many people travelling. Needless to say, the pandemic made Golden Week very different – it became Stay Home Week in 2020!

Showa Day – 29th April

In a nutshell: Emperor Hirohito’s birthday

Frequency: Annually

Established: 1926

 

As emperor before, during, and after the second world war, Hirohito reigned through some of Japan’s hardest times. Known as Showa (which means “enlightened peace”), he was emperor of Japan from 1926 until 1989.

 

Rather than an outright celebration of Showa, this national holiday in Japan has nuanced meaning. It is a time to contemplate this period of history, and many visit Tokyo’s National Showa Memorial Museum to learn more.

 

We recommend: Enjoy the beginning of Golden Week and reflect on this period of Japan’s history.

Constitution Day – May 3rd

In a nutshell: To commemorate the Constitution

Frequency: Annually

Established: 1947

 

Japan’s constitution was rewritten after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It is also known as the “Peace Constitution” or “Post-war Constitution” and gave new emphasis to pacifism and the peace of its people.

 

Like National Foundation Day and Showa Day, this public holiday has mixed meanings for Japanese people. The rewritten constitution changed the role of Japan’s monarchy and signalled a turning point in history.

 

We recommend: Take a tour around the National Diet Building, open once a year to the public.

Greenery Day – May 4th

In a nutshell: A day to celebrate nature

Frequency: Annually

Established: 1989

 

Also known as Arbor Day, the main event consists of The Emperor and Empress planting a tree and sowing seeds. It’s been held since 1950 and was renamed Greenery Day as a reference to Showa’s love of nature.

 

The event is held by the National Land Afforestation Promotion Organisation, who also hold a poster competition. It’s also a great time for green tea harvesting, so visiting a tea house is another way to celebrate Greenery Day.

 

We recommend: Head to your local park or try a trail from our Places to Hike blog post.

Children's Day – May 5th

In a nutshell: Celebrating children

Frequency: Annually

Established: 1948

 

A day to respect the personalities of children and celebrate their happiness, Children’s Day marks the end of Golden Week. It is traditional to raise koinobori – carp-shaped windsocks that represent family members.

 

Originally called Boy’s Day, the day was renamed to include girls (who also have their own ‘Doll Festival’ in March). It’s traditional to display samurai dolls inside, and you can take iris baths for their special properties.

 

We recommend: Enjoy eating the traditional sticky rice snacks kashiwa mochi and chimaki.

Ocean Day – July 22nd

In a nutshell: Celebrating the ocean

Frequency: Third Monday in July

Established: 1996

 

The unofficial start of summer, Ocean Day (also known as Marine Day) is a chance to celebrate the maritime aspects of Japan. Originally held on the 20th, the date was changed to create a ‘Happy Monday’ long weekend.

 

As an island, Japan is heavily reliant on its oceans. Aquariums and coastal locations host water-related events during Ocean Day, and Japanese people give thanks for the bounty of the sea. It’s a great excuse for a swim.

 

We recommend: Spend a day out at the beach at one of Japan’s many coastal locations.

Health and Sports Day – July 23rd

In a nutshell: Promoting active lifestyles

Frequency: Annually

Established: 1966

 

Moved forward this year for the Olympics, Health and Sports Day usually takes place in October. Many schools and businesses hold their own mini Olympics, with traditional sports, childhood games and obstacle races.

 

Health and Sports Day places an emphasis on both physical and mental health, and taking part is voluntary. Most of Japan’s population is active, even elderly people, and many already exercise or do some kind of sport.

 

We recommend: Visit a Japanese gym or check out some of Japan’s most popular sports.

Mountain Day – August 9th

In a nutshell: Appreciating Japan’s mountains

Frequency: Annually

Established: 2016

 

One of the newest national holidays in Japan, Mountain Day celebrates the mountains. Did you know over 70% of Japan’s land is mountainous? Japan has nearly 20 thousand mountains, depending on how you count them.

 

As a new holiday, there are no established ways to celebrate Mountain Day. The holiday was lobbied for by groups including the Japanese Alpine Club, offering an opportunity to get more familiar with Japan’s peaks.

 

We recommend: Taking a trip to the iconic Mount Fuji – even if just to appreciate it from afar.

A Japanese family are seated on the floor around a table, as an older woman serves traditional food

Special Calendar Date: Obon

Although not a public holiday in Japan, Obon is one of the most important festivals in Japan and many are given leave. Obon has been celebrated for over 500 years and stems from a Buddhist custom of honouring the spirits of ancestors. The festival lasts for three days and can include carnivals, summer festival food and the ‘Bon Dance’.

Respect for the Aged Day – September 20th

In a nutshell: Honouring the elderly

Frequency: 3rd Monday September

Established: 1966

 

Japan is famous for the respect it has for its elderly – it has a high percentage of older people. This national holiday in Japan is a chance to give thanks to older people in the community and to celebrate their long lives.

 

The origins of Respect for the Aged Day began in 1947, from a small town celebrating ‘Old Folks’ Day’. During the holiday, it’s a nice idea to connect with elderly loved ones or help out at a relevant charity organisation.

 

We recommend: Throw a party for your elderly loved ones or buy them a special gift.

Autumn Equinox Day – September 23rd

In a nutshell: The start of autumn

Frequency: 22nd – 24th March

Established: 1948

 

Similar to the spring equinox, this national holiday marks the end of summer and the arrival of autumn. The holiday has Shinto roots as a time to give thanks to deities and is also a time of remembrance for Buddhists.

 

Japanese people often spend Autumn Equinox Day remembering their ancestors, visiting family graves, or holding reunions. If the weather is good, it’s a great time to try outdoor activities or visit a shrine or temple.

 

We recommend: Prepare a fresh meal after a good harvest or spend time with family.

Culture Day – November 3rd

In a nutshell: Celebrating the arts

Frequency: Annually

Established: 1948

 

A day to promote Japan’s art, culture and academia, this national holiday also celebrates the country’s dedication to peace and freedom. Japan has a unique and vibrant culture, and Culture Day is a great time to explore it.

Celebrations, art exhibitions and parades are held all around Japan, and a prize at the Order of Culture award ceremony is presented by the emperor himself. Many schools and universities showcase their students’ art.

 

We recommend: Visit one of Japan’s many museums or art galleries, or go see a lecture.

Labour Thanksgiving Day – November 23rd

In a nutshell: Giving thanks for labour

Frequency: Annually

Established: 1948

 

Established to mark changes to the post-war Constitution, including the expansion of workers’ rights, this is the last public holiday in Japan of the year. Workers themselves are encouraged to take a day off and rest.

 

Labour Thanksgiving Day also has origins as an ancient harvest festival, and there’s a theme of giving thanks for hard work. School children traditionally make cards for essential workers like police, firefighters and doctors.

 

We recommend: If you’re a manager, appreciate your workers’ contributions and let them relax.

Now you’ve read our guide to national and public holidays in Japan, make sure they’re added to your calendar.

 

Interested in living and working in Japan? Check out ALT jobs with Interac here.