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All About the Japanese National Anthem : Kimigayo 君が代

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Maybe you have heard of the Japanese national anthem on TV from World Cup football championship or commendation ceremonies of Olympic Games, but did you know that the Japanese national anthem “君が代 kimigayo” has first place in two categories? The lyrics of 君が代 kimigayo are the oldest among the world’s national anthems, and it is the shortest in the world! 

Originating from the pure art of Japanese ancient poetry, Kimigayo reflects the profound Japanese culture and art, yet it is also deeply related to the Japanese emperor system that has existed for over 1000 years and is an inextricable part of Japan. Embracing such long history and countless unfolding affairs in times, the Japanese national anthem is also cast a dark shadow by the wars, resulting in the controversy of its pros and cons until now.

In this article, we will introduce all the facts about the Japanese national anthem, including explanations about the lyrics, the history and how it evolved, occasions when the national anthem is sung, and the controversy over the different interpretations of Kimigayo. Let’s learn all about the Japanese national anthem here at Japanesepod101.com!

The Japanese National Flag with the Shadow of 3 Medals

国歌 kokka (“National Anthem”)

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Japanese Table of Contents
  1. Japanese National Anthem Lyrics and Music
  2. History of Japanese National Anthem
  3. When is the Japanese National Anthem Typically Sung?
  4. Cultural or Political?
  5. Conclusion

1. Japanese National Anthem Lyrics and Music

1. Lyrics

As mentioned, the Japanese national anthem lyrics are the world’s oldest as well as the shortest, with a length of only 32 characters.

The lyrics are originally from the Japanese poem 和歌 Waka of the ancient anthology 古今和歌集 Kokin Wakashū from the 10th century. The original author of this poem is unknown, but it became the most well-known song in Japan many centuries later: the national anthem.

君が代  KimigayoThe Japanese National Anthem
KanjiHiraganaReading English
*君が代は 

千代に八千代に


**さざれ石の

巌となりて

苔のむすまで
きみがよは

ちよにやちよに


さざれいしの

いわおとなりて

こけのむすまで
kimi ga yo wa

chiyo ni yachiyo ni

sazare ishi no

iwao to narite

koke no musu made
*May your reign 

Continue for a thousand, eight thousand generations,


**Until the tiny pebbles

Grow into mighty rocks

And moss grow on them

*君が代 Kimigayo is often translated as “your reign / His Imperial Majesty’s Reign” when it’s talked in the context of the Emperor, yet legally no official translation of the lyrics has been established. In general, “君 kimi” means “you” and “代 yo” means “generation or lifetime.” In the original Waka poem, “You” meant the person who receives the celebration as it was originally a dedicated poem to celebrate the longevity of those who receive it. Therefore, it is translated as “May your life (last for a long time)” in the original meaning.

**さざれ石の 巌となりて 苔のむすまで sazare ishi no  iwao to narite  koke no musu made (“Until the tiny pebbles grow into mighty rocks and moss grow on them”)  expresses the endless years of eternity by conveying in a visual image.

さざれ石sazare ishi originally means small pebbles. 巌 iwao refers to a boulder conglomerate of calcareous breccia, which has been transformed into one large rock mass by filling the gaps between pebbles fragments with calcium carbonate (CaCO3) and iron hydroxide over long years. In some cases, this rock is also called sazare ishi.

Sazare-ishi Rock that Is Worshiped in a Shrine in Kyoto

さざれ石の巌となりて Sazare ishi no iwao to narite
(“small pebbles grow into massive rocks”)

2. Music

Although Kimigayo is very short music with a length of 11 measures and less than 45 seconds (when played with♩=60), the Kimigayo’s solemn and refined melody is majestically impressive and conveys the beauty of simplicity.

The current melody was adopted in 1880 and composed by the Court Music Division of the Ministry of the Imperial Household. It replaced the previous melody due to its unpopularity, which was made by composer John William Fenton, allegedly the first person to systematically teach the theory of Western music in Japan. From 1893, the harmony-arranged version was used for official ceremonies, and it was widely used as the national anthem by 1930. In 1999, the Act on National Flag and Anthem made it the official Japanese national anthem.

If you’d like to listen to Kimigayo, here are a few examples: 


The music score and lyrics of the Japanese national anthem

日本の国歌は君が代です。 Nihon no kokka wa Kimigayo desu. 
(“The national anthem of Japan is Kimigayo”)

To learn facts about the Japanese language, please check out Japanese Language Overview and Is Japanese Hard to Learn?

2. History of Japanese National Anthem

1. Ancient Poem

The lyrics of Japanese national anthem 君が代 Kimigayo are from the Kokin Wakashū 古今和歌集 (“Collection of Japanese Poems of Ancient and Modern Times”), an early anthology of the Waka form of Japanese poetry, dating from the Heian period the early 10th century.

In the original poem, “君 kimi” indicates a person who is close to you rather than referring to a specific person, and it is said to be a poem that celebrates his longevity.

On the other hand, there are other interpretations for the ancient time. Some interpret it as a poem about the eternal bond between men and women.

In the ancient Japanese language, it is considered that ”き ki” stands for male and “み mi” for female. The first male and female creator deities were イザナギ(キ)izanagi(ki) and イザナミ izanami  in the Japanese mythology, and gi/ki from izanagi(ki) meant male and mi from izanami meant female. From the concept that God is the perfect existence, it is believed “君 ki + mi “ refers to a men and women who have completely grown up physically and mentally (perfect existence). Thus, Kimigayo poem is interpreted as “May the grown up man and women get together and have strong bonds for a long time throughout the ages like small pebbles are combined into a mighty rock over time.”

The Old Paper Written in the Ancient Japanese

If you are interested in Japanese quotes, please check out Japanese Quotes That Will Enrich Your Life.

2. Kimigayo and Traditional Art Culture

Kimigayo and other ancient poems were used for a 朗詠 Rōei poem reciting (“singing joyfully in a loud voice”), and it had spread rapidly to the general public since the Kamakura period (12th – 14th century). 

It had also come to be used in various ways, not limited to 賀歌 Gaka (celebration poetry) but also for Buddhist events and a variety of Japanese entertainment arts, such as  田楽 Dengaku (rustic celebrations with music and dance), 猿楽 Sarugaku (“monkey music” a type of theater), and 謡曲 Yōkyoku (a type of dance-drama theater). Until the Meiji Era (19th -20th century), Kimigayo was sung and used mainly for the Japanese traditional arts.

If you want to know more about Japanese culture, please see A Brief Overview of Japanese Culture.

3. Kimigayo as Ceremonial Music

In 1869, the British Minister Harry Parks notified Japan that Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, would visit Japan and stay for about a month. On the occasion for his reception, the Irish military band leader, John William Fenton, realized there was no national anthem in Japan. He suggested that a national anthem or some ceremonial music should be created, and offered to compose one himself. The lyrics were chosen by the Japanese commander and the first official ceremonial song was created. However, it was not popular or welcomed among Japanese people because they believed the melody composed by Fenton lacked dignity.

The concept of a “national anthem” was born in modern Western culture and was indispensable for diplomatic ceremonies at the end of the Edo period when Japan opened the country to the world. Japanese military commanders and politicians came to be aware of the need for a national anthem on occasions of diplomatic ceremonies and the music score was revised in 1880. The music was arranged with Western style harmony for wind-instrument music by the German naval music teacher Franz Eckert and it had been played as the official ceremonial music in the various scenes, such as the reception of international honored guests and sporting events.

The Music Sheet of the Japanese National Anthem from 1888

1888年に対外正式公布 1888-nen ni taigai seishiki kōfu
(“Diplomatically officially promulgated in 1888”)

4. Kimigayo as National Anthem

Before the World War Ⅱ

Although Kimigayo was not the legal national anthem at the time, it was often performed and sung on official occasions. At the turn of the 20th century, Kimigayo began to be associated with the idea of honoring the Emperor along with the situation where wars arose. It also influenced Japanese education. In the textbooks for 4th-grade students at an elementary school, which was established in 1941, it was written “The song of Kimigayo means that the reign of the Emperor will continue to prosper for thousands of years. It is a song that the people sincerely praise and celebrate.” The Japanese people came to be familiarized with Kimigayo as the Japanese national anthem when there were waves of celebrations after the First Sino-Japanese and Russo-Japanese Wars victories. This trend continued until the end of the World War Ⅱ.

After the World War Ⅱ

During the American occupation of Japan from 1945, GHQ General Headquarters, the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers totally banned the 日の丸 Hinomaru (“the circle of the sun” meaning the Japanese national flag) hoisting and banned singing Kimigayo, and singing of Kimigayo had been removed from the National School Ordinance Enforcement Regulations of 1946. During 1940’s various entities created new songs as an alternative to Kimigayo. However, none of them were adopted as the national anthem officially. After the San Francisco Peace Treaty in September 1951, Kimigayo was often performed again corresponding to the national anthem at official ceremonies.

After the restoration of sovereignty, the educational guideline in 1958 stated that “when performing ceremonies, it is desirable to raise the national flag and sing the national anthem of Japan” and since then Kimigayo had been sung at school widely. While Kimigayo had been played as a de facto national anthem for a long time, legislation had progressed later due to the lack of legal ground. The “Act on National Flag and Anthem” which legally established Japan’s national flag and the anthem was enacted on August 9, 1999, and it came into effect 4 days later. The Act states the interpretation of Kimigayo as: “Kimigayo indicates Japan as the country, in that the emperor symbolizes Japan and the unification of the Japanese people, based on the consensus of the Japanese people.”

In response to this, the 1999 educational guideline issued by the Ministry of Education decrees that “on entrance and graduation ceremonies, schools must raise the flag of Japan and instruct students to sing the national anthem Kimigayo, given the significance of the flag and the song.” 
If you want to learn how to talk about nationality in Japanese, please see our article Countries and Nationalities in Japanese.

Japanese national Flag fluttering in the wind

3. When is the Japanese National Anthem Typically Sung?

The national anthem 国歌 kokka (literally, “national song”) is the symbol of the nation and the people that glorifies the country with music presentations. The Japanese national anthem Kimigayo is sung on various important and formal occasions including national and international events as listed below.

国歌演奏 / 吹奏  kokka ensō / suisō (music performance/ brass band of the National Anthem)

  • Commendation ceremonies at Olympic Games 
  • Some radio and television stations play it at the beginning and end of the broadcast

国歌斉唱  kokka seishō (singing the National Anthem altogether)

国歌斉唱 kokka seishō means that all participants of events sing the national anthem altogether with (the brass band) musical performance at national events and other important events. When singing the national anthem, it is common manners to stand up and take off hats, pay attention to the national flag, and sing the anthem with respect.

  • Entrance and graduation ceremonies at school (elementary, middle high, high school, and university)
  • Coming-of-age ceremony
  • Convention of political party
  • National memorial service for the war dead
  • Japan self-defense forces marching festival etc.

Sports related events

  • National sports festival
  • Inter-high school athletics competition
  • Sumo wrestling tournament
  • Emperor’s prize horse race
  • Games of professional baseball, football, basketball, boxing etc.

Back of Two Japanese Girls Who Dressed Up in Kimono

国歌は成人式でも歌われます。Kokka wa seijinshiki de mo utawaremasu.
(“The national anthem is sung also at the ceremony of coming-of-age” )

国歌独唱  kokka dokushō (representative sings the National Anthem alone)

国歌独唱  kokka dokushō means that the representative sings the national anthem alone with the brass band music at national events and other important events. It is often at sports competition events, and like many other countries, a famous singer or music group is often invited to sing the national anthem in front of spectators.

[Sports related events]

  • High school baseball
  • Japan professional football league 
  • Japan professional baseball league 
  • Japan professional boxing title match
  • Tennis championship
  • Marathon championship
  • Bicycle race championship
  • Formula 1 etc.
The Illustration of a Japanese Graduation Ceremony

国歌は学校の式で歌われます。Kokka wa gakkō no shiki de utawaremasu.
(“The national anthem is sung at the ceremonies at school”)

4. Cultural or Political?

Kimigayo is probably one of the world’s most controversial national anthems. The controversy especially rose after World War 2 that Kimigayo is not appropriate as a national anthem because it associates with the military wartime as it was used to praise the Empire of Japan and honor the Emperor. 

The pro and con opinions may vary as we look into the history of Kimigayo from a cultural or political point of view. Below are opinions of the pros and cons;

Reasonings For Using It

  • The original Kimigayo is purely an artwork of Japanese culture and tradition, and it is a poem about blessing a long life and national peace.
  • It has been used as a celebratory song in various Japanese traditional arts over centuries and the political intention is merely an afterthought.
  • In the light of the classics, “君 kimi” simply means “you”, and therefore Kimigayo is a “song to pray for your health and longevity”, so the claim that the criticism of “the song of the emperor” does not apply in the first place.
  • Even if  “君 kimi” indicates “emperor”, it is nothing but “Emperor as a symbol of the unification of Japan and the Japanese people” stipulated in the Constitution of Japan. Therefore, the song praising him (emperor as a symbol) does not contradict the principle of the “Constitution of Japan”.
  • The singing of Kimigayo at school is indispensable for nurturing the awareness and pride of Japanese people in the hearts of children. In an era of active international exchange like today, it is even more important to establish a Japanese identity through the national anthem. In the first place, ritual practices for national anthems are international common sense, and teaching such common sense is reasonable education. What is more, it does not lead to the revival of militarism or totalitarianism.

Reasonings Against Using It 

  • Kimigayo is not appropriate as a national anthem of modern Japan because it is associated with military wartime and worshiping the emperor as a god.
  • It is the national anthem of the Empire of Japan, and the lyrics have a strong meaning of honoring the emperor.
  • Kimigayo meaning “the reign of the emperor” was appropriate for the Constitution of the Empire of Japan, where the emperor was an absolute authority, but not for the Constitution of Japan which is based on the principle of popular sovereignty. 
  • Before the war, the singing of Kimigayo at school was compulsory, and it has resulted in instilling a spirit of command hierarchy and selfless devotion in children and, as a result, promoting militarism and totalitarianism. Therefore, the compulsion of Kimigayo singing in education may lead to the revival of militarism and totalitarianism.
  • Although Kimigayo was stipulated as a national anthem by the “Act on National Flag and Anthem”, the deliberation of the Act was too quick, and it was hard to say that it had undergone adequate national debate.

Public Schools

The main discussion about Kimigayo is mainly centered on handling of Kimigayo and the national flag at public school. It is often a question of whether it is appropriate to instruct students to stand up when singing the national anthem, based on the legal basis of the New Curriculum Guidelines Chapter 6, Number 3 -3.

Supreme Court decisions on cases in 2007 and 2011 ruled that the school principal’s job order to instruct students to stand when singing the national anthem does not violate Article 19 of the Constitution, which guarantees freedom of thought and conscience, and therefore it is constitutional. Controversy over Kimigayo at school was somewhat settled down after the Supreme Court decisions, however, some issues relating to singing of Kimigayo are occasionally brought up to the board of education and the court.

To learn Japanese classroom phrases, please visit Level Up with These Advanced Japanese Words.

The Shadows of People Who Wave Their Hands in the Air with the National Flags

長く深い歴史と文化 vs. 苦い戦争の面影 Nagaku fukai rekishi to bunka vs. nigai sensō no omokage
(“Long and deep history and culture vs. vestige of the bitter war”)

5. Conclusion

In this article, we introduced the facts about the Japanese National Anthem from various aspects, including:

  • Lyrics and Music 
  • History – ancient time to the present
  • When is it typically sung
  • Controversies over Kimigayo

Now you know all about the Japanese National Anthem! The world’s shortest lyrics make it easy to learn and you can sing it together the next time you listen to it at Olympic Games or International sports events!

If you would like to learn more about the Japanese language, you’ll find a lot more helpful content on JapanesePod101.com. This is the best place to learn Japanese online, providing a variety of free lessons designed to help you improve your Japanese-language skills. 

If you are interested in learning more, the following articles are just right for you: 

And there’s so much more! Be a faster learner and enjoy studying Japanese at JapanesePod101.com!

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A Brief Overview of Japanese Culture

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What do you know about Japanese culture? While you may be familiar with sushi, anime & manga, and maybe even martial arts such as Karate and Jūdō, there’s so much more! 

Japanese culture is unique and multifaceted, characterized by rich traditions that boast thousands of years of history. It’s continuously evolving and influencing both domestic and international society, especially in the fields of subculture, cuisine, fashion, and technology. 

Understanding and immersing yourself in the culture of Japan will not only make any future visits more enjoyable, but also accelerate your language learning. In this overview of Japanese culture from JapanesePod101.com, you’ll learn about its most essential aspects: Japanese values, philosophy, beliefs and religions, family, work, art, food, and traditional holidays. 

Are you ready? Then let’s begin.

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Japanese Table of Contents
  1. Japanese Values and Philosophies
  2. Religions and Beliefs
  3. The Family and Home
  4. School and Work
  5. Art and Entertainment
  6. Table Etiquette and Food
  7. Traditional Holidays and Celebrations
  8. How JapanesePod101 Can Help You Learn More Japanese

1. Japanese Values and Philosophies

A Japanese Girl Wearing a Kimono and Holding a Fan in Front of Her Face

Japanese culture is unique and fascinating.

Japan is said to be one of the most socially and ethically homogenous countries in the world. Although Japan does have a minority ethnic group, the アイヌ (Ainu) people of the Hokkaido prefecture, the Japanese as a whole share essential values. 

Unlike other countries, which place importance on diversity and house multiple ethnic groups and cultures, 和 (wa), or “harmony,” is the most important value in Japan. Japanese people prioritize the harmonious balance and peace of a society (and of the groups they belong to), rather than asserting and pursuing one’s personal desires. Doing so would be considered bad manners as it would break the balance of harmony and create disorder. 

Japanese culture values collectivism, contrary to most Western societies which promote individualism. Thus, Japanese people are generally polite and kind to others, and they try to avoid causing conflict. For example, expressing an opinion contrary to that of the majority can be considered a source of conflict.

Confucianism has also influenced Japanese values, particularly those revolving around seniority. Respecting parents and seniors is important, and the concept of seniority is often seen in school club activities (where senior students have a more confident attitude than juniors, even if the juniors perform better) and in traditional workplaces (where seniority affects pay raise and promotion). 

Many Japanese values are based on the idea of 神道 (Shinto), which is the traditional Japanese religion. Shinto is polytheistic and believes that “gods” or “divine spirits” inhabit all things in nature, and thus, all things should be treated with respect. As a result, the Japanese tend to subconsciously respect things and handle things with care.

The Jizō Statuettes in Japan

Harmony, or 和 (wa), is one of the most important Japanese values.

2. Religions and Beliefs

Japanese religious beliefs can be characterized as a mix of Shinto and Buddhism, both of which greatly influence Japanese cultural values.

Shinto originated from Ancient Japan, making it almost as old as Japanese culture itself. During that time, people believed in an animistic spirituality. According to this belief, every single thing in nature contained an enormous number of divine spirits referred to as 八百万の神 (Yaoyorozu no Kami), or literally “eight million gods.” Buddhism came later from India via China in the sixth century and the two religions have been coexisting since then.

However, Japanese people nowadays are not religious nor do they gather together to worship like believers of many other religions do. This is because Shinto and Buddhism are more like moral codes or philosophies on how to live. 

In Japanese culture, Shinto and Buddhism are embedded in a variety of festive and life events, such as New Year, festivals, births, coming of age ceremonies, and funerals. For such occasions, Japanese people visit shrines and temples and follow the religious ceremonies, but people regard them as cultural traditions rather than displays of religious piety.

In this way, Japanese people are not religious and their mindset toward religions is quite open. Interestingly, the Japanese import other religious traditions into the culture as “entertaining events,” without adding (or even knowing) their religious meaning. Examples include exchanging gifts and eating cakes on Christmas, conducting wedding ceremonies at church (often a fake one) with a white wedding dress, and giving chocolates to loved ones on St. Valentine’s Day. It’s said that real Christians in Japan comprise only about 0.7% of the total population.

What’s the difference between Shrines and Temples?

Many people, including the Japanese themselves, don’t clearly know the difference between shrines and temples. Basically, shrines are of Shinto and temples are of Buddhism. 

The easiest way to identify shrines is by the 鳥居 (Torii), a huge wooden gate (usually vermillion red in color) placed before the premises or in front of the shrine. It is a symbol of the border between the mundane world and the sacred place. Vermillion red is often used for the pillars and frames of shrine buildings as well.

On the other hand, Buddhist temples are identified by Buddhist statues and the temple cemetery. Buddhist monks live in temples and chant Buddhist sutras as necessary. Most temples are dark in color, usually constructed of brown wood and a gray tiled roof.

A Shrine in Japan with a Red Gate

There are thousands of Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples throughout Japan.

3. The Family and Home 

Every culture has its own perception of family and facilitates a certain way of life. Let’s delve into the specifics of Japanese culture and customs associated with family and the home.

A- Japanese Family

The Japanese family system is traditionally very patriarchal. This is represented by the Imperial Family—which has a history of over a thousand years—where only a male offspring can inherit the imperial throne. 

In Japanese society, the nuclear family is very common and the average Japanese family has one or two children. There is a patriarchal tendency in the household, with the husband/father acting as breadwinner and the wife/mother filling the role of caregiver. Even in families where both parents work, the wife/mother often has more of a burden in terms of household chores and childcare.

Although modernization and changes in the family structure have been influential in making the modern family less patriarchal over time, the first son in a family is still considered its successor and is expected to live with and take care of his elderly parents.

Due to this patriarchal tradition and subconsciously embedded mindset, Japan is still a strongly male-dominant society, as seen in the Global Gender Gap Report 2020. Further, Japan ranks 121st out of 153 countries in terms of gender equality, way below the average for OECD countries.


A Japanese Family Consisting of a Mother, a Father, and Two Children

A nuclear family with one or two kids is very common in Japan.

B- Japanese Houses

In Japanese culture, taking off shoes before entering the main part of a house is important. A Japanese home, whether it’s an independent housing unit or a small apartment, has an entrance area called 玄関 (genkan) where you remove your shoes. Genkan is located inside of the main door and its floor is lower than that of the main part of the house. It separates the dirty/dusty shoe area and the clean, dirt-free home area. The height of the elevated floor depends on the house, from as low as 5 cm to knee-level. 

When entering a house, it’s good manners to say one of the following greetings:

  • ただいま (Tadaima) – “I’m home.”
    • when coming back to your own home
  • おじゃまします (Ojama shimasu) – Literally: “I disturb.” / Meaning: “Let me enter,” in a polite way.
    • when you’re visiting someone else’s house

The toilet and bath are usually located in separate rooms, except in small apartments for one person. Every household has a bathtub as the Japanese bathe in hot water to relax or soothe their fatigue after a long day. Benefitting from its volcanic geography, Japan has a lot of areas and towns where people can enjoy 温泉 (Onsen), or “hot springs.”

A Wild Monkey Enjoying an Onsen During Winter

Hot springs, or 温泉 (Onsen), are also popular among wild monkeys in the mountains, especially during winter.

Traditional Japanese-style houses and rooms use 畳 (tatami) mats, which are made of woven soft rush straw, for flooring. 

If you were to go to a traditional 旅館 (ryokan) hotel in Japan, the guest room would have tatami flooring. You would sit on the floor with a low table for eating and sleep in 布団 (futon) bedding placed directly on the tatami without using a bed.

A Tatami Floor

Tatami floors are seen in traditional Japanese houses.

4. School and Work 

Are you looking to work or study in Japan? Then you should become familiar with typical Japanese culture in business and school. 

A- School and Education

The Japanese school system has four levels: elementary school (six years starting from age 6), middle school (three years), high school (three years), and higher education. Higher education can consist of junior college (two years), university (four years), or vocational school (one to three years). Elementary school and middle school are compulsory and for free.

Most schools have a school uniform and school rules that keep order and uniformity among students. Also, students are taught throughout their education that they should follow the rules, not cause trouble for other people, and prioritize uniformity. Students are also taught, especially in elementary schools, the importance of taking responsibility and keeping things clean for the public good. For example, they learn to serve lunch themselves at lunch time and to clean classrooms and school facilities themselves after school. 

Educated in such a way, Japanese people are good at cooperation and uniformity in states of emergency, such as natural disasters. In most cases, people act in a decent manner to minimize panic and try to help each other. During these times, looting and violence hardly ever happen in Japan.

While these Japanese culture characteristics are part of what make the country so beautiful, they’re not without criticism. Some argue that teaching students to prioritize uniformity discourages the cultivation of personality and keeps individuals from fine-tuning their gifts and abilities. This may result in a person who is unable to state his or her opinions with confidence.

A Group of Four Japanese Students Wearing Uniforms, Talking with Each Other

Most Japanese middle and high schools have school uniforms and school rules that keep order and uniformity among students.

B- Work

Japanese people are known for being diligent, responsible, and punctual workers. This is a very good thing for customers or clients who benefit from fast, accurate, punctual, polite, and kind services. However, the workers who are expected to deliver such excellent services (and Japanese customers/clients do expect such a high standard) may struggle and suffer a bit.

As mentioned before, Japanese people are taught to keep harmony and not to cause trouble for others. This applies to Japanese workplaces as well. No matter how tight the schedule is or how much work you have, you’re expected to meet deadlines and/or clients’ requirements. Thus, working overtime is common in most traditional Japanese workplaces. Workers are unable to say, for example, “I have a family to take care of, I will continue tomorrow,” at 5 or 6 pm (which is supposedly the end of the work day). Taking consecutive paid holidays can also be difficult, as Japanese employees feel guilty about taking leave while other colleagues have to cover their absence.

Another essential aspect of Japanese work culture is social drinking with colleagues and bosses—or even with clients—to create rapport for smoother work. These occasions are often very difficult to decline, as it can be considered rude or uncooperative to do so.

There are still a lot of traditional Japanese practices to be improved upon, such as: 

These aspects of Japanese business culture encourage employee retention until retirement, and base promotions and pay raises on age (regardless of performance). On one hand, this is good for less-capable employees as employment and salary are secured. On the other hand, such customs result in low productivity, unfair opportunity, and an inflexible labor market. In addition, male-dominant workplaces accelerate the gender inequality in job positions, salaries, and stability of employment.

However, the government is eager to reform the work environment by introducing new policies, and the situation has been slowly improving among large corporations in particular. That said, it may take a little more time to create the ideal work environment.


5. Art and Entertainment

In many ways, the country’s rich history of art and entertainment is what makes Japanese culture unique. In this section, we’ll discuss some of the most popular Japanese art forms and entertainment industries.

A- Ukiyo-E Art

浮世絵 (Ukiyo-e) is one of the traditional Japanese painting styles, which flourished between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries. As the name 浮世絵 (Ukiyo-e), literally meaning “picture of floating/transient world,” indicates, it depicts the lifestyle of the Edo period, especially the pleasure-seeking aspects. 

The subjects range from people to landscapes, and from folk tales and travel scenes to erotica. One of the most internationally famous Ukiyo-e paintings is 葛飾 北斎 (Katsushika Hokusai‘s) The Great Wave off Kanagawa which illustrates huge waves making a big splash and features Mt.Fuji in the background. Today, some Ukiyo-e paintings are used as designs for T-shirts and other products.

An Ukiyo-e Depicting a Kabuki Actor.

An Ukiyo-e depicting a Kabuki actor.

B- Shodō

書道 (Shodō), which literally means “way of writing,” refers to Japanese calligraphy used for special purposes or artistic reasons. Examples of when this would be used include 書き初め (Kakizome), or “first calligraphy” written at the beginning of the year, and 年賀状 (Nengajō) meaning “New Year’s Day postcards.”

Japanese calligraphy originated from that of Chinese, as Kanji originally came from China. There are several writing styles and techniques that can be used to leave different impressions. 

Shodō is taught at every elementary school and some middle schools in Japan.

C- Kabuki

歌舞伎 (Kabuki) is a traditional Japanese drama theatre that’s performed by only male actors. 

Kabuki theatre is characterized by its unique drama and acting style as well as the exquisite stage makeup called 隈取 (Kumadori) worn by Kabuki actors. Basically, major Kabuki actors and their names are passed down from generation to generation according to the hereditary system. Kabuki theatre is managed by the strict traditional system and rules.

Kabuki theatre is said to have been created in the seventeenth century and it was listed as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2008. 

D- Haiku

俳句 (Haiku) is a Japanese poetry form characterized by its use of three phrases. Part of the Haiku’s artistic appeal is that it has to portray an idea well using a balanced choice of words. 

In order to make a Haiku, one must follow these three specifications: 

  • The first phrase must have 5 syllables, the second must have 7, and the third must have 5. The Japanese morae or syllable is called 音 (On). 
  • The Haiku must include 季語 (kigo), or a word that is associated with a particular season, to provide economy of expression.
  • It must also have the essence of 切れ (kire), or “cutting,” which cuts the phrase with an accent of sound. Good kire is said to give the words a sense of feeling. Within a small interval, readers are evoked to imagine its scene and context, as well as the emotion of the author.

The Haiku is thought to have developed from the early modern period around the fifteenth or sixteenth century. One of the most famous Haiku poets, 松尾芭蕉 (Matsuo Bashō), enhanced its artistic quality in the seventeenth century.

In addition to the Haiku, there are two other forms of Japanese poetry: 和歌 (Waka) and 短歌 (Tanka). These forms are longer than the Haiku

E- Manga and Anime 

There are two modern Japanese art genres that are very popular today:

  • 漫画 (Manga) – “comics” 
  • アニメ (Anime) – “animated cartoon film” 

There are many Manga/Anime fans in a range of different age groups.

Japanese Manga is said to have developed during the late nineteenth century. From the 1950s to this day, Manga has been evolving to become one of the most popular Japanese subcultures. There are numerous genres of Manga, from adventure and comedy, to science fiction, horror, and erotica. 

Manga is so influential that popular Manga are made into cartoon films and movies, which are then translated into multiple languages and broadcasted in many different countries. Manga and Anime have also created new industry opportunities and subcultures, such as コスプレ (Kosupure), or “costume play.” This is a performance art where cosplayers wear costumes and fashion accessories to pretend to be a specific character from Manga/Anime


F- Video Games

Japan is known for its video games, many of which have been influencing countless children and adults all around the world. Before the emergence of the internet and gaming apps in smartphones, the Japanese gaming industry was prosperous with major electronic and video game companies, such as Nintendo, Sony, Sega, Conami, Bandai Namco, Capcom, and the list goes on. 

A number of popular video game hardwares and softwares have been created in Japan and the video game subculture has become a phenomenon. Today, due to the fast-changing technology and trends (such as Virtual Reality and social gaming), as well as the multi-platform availability of video games, the gaming industry has become more competitive than ever. New types of video games are being created every day.

In addition to games for individuals, there are many video games and gaming entertainment facilities in Japan for the public in Japan. These include game centers and amusement parks where people can enjoy real physical games and attractions.

6. Table Etiquette and Food

Japanese culture and food go hand in hand. The country is famous for its range of tasty dishes, from Sushi to Rāmen—but how much do you know about the full spectrum of Japanese cuisine? Or the proper table etiquette while dining in Japan? Keep reading to learn more!

A- Table Etiquette 

Japanese people like to be clean, and kids grow up being taught to wash their hands after using the toilet, when coming back home after being outside, and before eating.

At restaurants, おしぼり (oshibori), or a wet hand towel, is usually provided to clean your hands. In Japan, it’s uncommon to pick up food directly with your hands (a common occurrence in many other countries when eating bread, for example). 

It’s considered important to be grateful for the food and to respect the cook. Traditionally, proper etiquette requires that you say these greeting words before and after eating:

Before:

  • いただきます (itadakimasu) – “I eat/receive.” [Humble]

After:

  • ごちそうさまでした (gochisō-sama deshita) – “It was delicious food.” [Grateful and respectful]

For Japanese people, these greetings are as natural as cleaning their hands before eating.

Also keep in mind that playing with chopsticks or food is considered bad manners. In addition, never stick chopsticks vertically on rice in a bowl as this is associated with funerals (specifically, the food offered to the deceased in heaven). 

On the other hand, drinking (miso) soup directly from a bowl and making slurping sounds while eating soup noodles are not considered bad manners in Japan. Don’t be surprised when you hear people making noise while eating Soba, Udon, or Rāmen in Japan.


B- Japanese Food

Japanese food culture is one of the best in the world, proven by the fact that Tokyo has been announced the world’s most Michelin-starred city for the thirteenth consecutive year according to the Michelin Guide Tokyo 2020. That’s right: it’s not Paris or Rome, but the capital city of Japan. Japanese people are known to be foodies who can wait in line for two hours just to get a bowl of Rāmen.

Japanese cuisine is characterized by its diversity, ranging from local casual food to traditional authentic Japanese food. You’ll find restaurants throughout the country where you can get a meal for as little as ¥300 (around $3) as well as super high-end restaurants. You can find delicious food at any level, any budget, and any restaurant type. (Not to mention there are also international cuisines available in Japan!)

Another place you can experience the rich Japanese food culture is in convenience stores and supermarkets. There are all kinds of bento boxes, delicatessen foods, and dried and instant foods. After all, instant cup noodles are a notable invention of Japan!

A Variety of Japanese Dishes Arranged on a Table

Appetizers of Kaiseki cuisine, consisting of multiple dishes. Each dish is usually small and artistically decorated.

7. Traditional Holidays and Celebrations

There are many traditional holidays and celebrations in Japan. 

  • January 1 –  元旦 (gantan), “New Year’s Day”

    The official national holiday is only on January 1, but New Year’s Day celebrations usually last until at least January 3. These extended celebrations are referred to as 正月 (O-shōgatsu), and this is one of the biggest celebrations in Japan. To welcome the new year, family members and relatives get together, visit shrines to pray for happiness, have a special meal such as 御節 (Osechi) or お雑煮 (O-zōni), give お年玉 (Otoshidama) or “gift money” to children, and so on.
  • Second Monday of January – 成人の日 (Seijin no hi), “Coming of Age Day”

    20 years old is the official age of adulthood in Japan. Every year on Coming of Age Day, all the young people who turn 20 that year celebrate their adulthood, typically dressed up in traditional 着物 (kimono).

Japanese Women Dressed in Traditional Kimonos for Coming of Age Day Ceremony

On Coming of Age Day, those who turned 20 years old that year dress up in traditional Kimono and celebrate their official adulthood.

  • February 11 – 建国記念日 (Kenkoku kinenbi), National Foundation Day

    This holiday celebrates the mythological foundation of Japan, and the date corresponds to when the first Emperor of Japan came to power on February 11, 660 BC. Festive ceremonies are conducted at major shrines throughout Japan.
  • March 3 – ひな祭り (Hinamatsuri), “Girls’ Day

    Although this day is not a public holiday on which public services and schools close, it’s one of the remarkable traditional celebrations of Japan. To celebrate the healthy growth of girls, it’s tradition to display 雛人形 (hina-ningyō), or a set of ornamental dolls that represent the Emperor, Empress, attendants, and musicians in the traditional court dress of the Heian period.
  • April 29 to May 5 – ゴールデンウィーク (Gōruden Wīku), “Golden Week”

    It is called “Golden Week” because it contains many national holidays, making it a whole holiday week when combined with Saturday and Sunday. April 29 is Shōwa Day, May 3 is Constitution Day, May 4 is Greenery Day, and May 5 is Children’s Day.

    Around Children’s Day, it is tradition to put 鯉のぼり (Koinobori), or “carp-shaped windsocks,” outside of one’s house to wish for the healthy growth of children.

Three Koinobori Waving against a Blue Sky

Around Children’s Day, a lot of households put Koinobori carp flags outside to wish for the healthy growth of children.

  • Around August 15 – お盆 (O-bon)

    While this is not an official holiday, August 15 and the surrounding days are considered important. This is when families get together to honor the spirits of their ancestors. Derived from Buddhist custom, it’s believed that ancestors come down from heaven to earth around this time, once a year. Many Japanese people return to their parents’ or grandparents’ home, spend family time together, and then visit their ancestors’ graves to clean them and leave offerings.
  • Third Monday of September – 敬老の日 (Keirō no hi), “Respect for the Aged Day

    Influenced by Confucianism, Japanese culture values respecting and taking care of the elderly. This day is to show gratitude and respect for them. Usually, families celebrate and give gifts to their grandfather and grandmother.
  • December 31 – 大晦日 (Ōmisoka), “End of Year Day”

    Ōmisoka is not an official national holiday, but most companies offer time off for winter holidays as well as the Year End and New Year holidays. It is Japanese tradition to celebrate the last day of the year with family by giving thanks for having come through the previous year safe and sound, and by welcoming the new year with hope for good things to come.

    In order to welcome the fresh new year, Japanese people clean their house and eat 年越しそば (Toshikoshi soba), or “year-crossing noodle,” to wish for a long life. Before midnight, families go to a temple to hit a 除夜の鐘 (Joya no kane), or “bell,” to remove all unwanted states of mind. This custom originally derives from Buddhism.

To learn the essential vocabulary for New Year’s, check out our list of Japanese Vocabulary for New Year’s Holiday!

8. How JapanesePod101 Can Help You Learn More Japanese

In this Japanese culture overview, we covered a range of essential topics from values and religions, to family, art, and food. I hope you enjoyed learning these unique facts and that you’re now more interested in this fascinating culture! 

If you would like to learn more about the Japanese language and culture, JapanesePod101.com contains plenty of useful information for learners at every level. We provide a variety of free lessons to help you improve your Japanese language skills in the most fun way possible. To give you a small sample of what we have to offer, here is some content on the basics of Japanese:

You can also take advantage of our personal one-on-one coaching service, MyTeacher, when you create a Premium PLUS account. Your private teacher will help you practice pronunciation and give you personalized feedback and advice so you can improve efficiently. 

And there’s still so much more! Learn faster and enjoy studying Japanese at JapanesePod101.com!

Before you go, let us know in the comments what you learned about Japanese culture today. Were there any facts that caught your attention? We look forward to hearing from you!

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Japanese Showa Day: The First Day of Golden Week

While many of us are enjoying the beginning of spring and looking forward to all that April (and May and June…) have in store, this feeling of excitement is perhaps strongest in Japan right now. 

You see, April 29 (Showa Day) marks the beginning of Golden Week! This is a several-day period during which many Japanese people receive time off work, allowing them to travel and enjoy the refreshing spring weather at will. 

The Showa Day holiday in Japan, or 昭和の日 (Shōwa no hi), commemorates one of the most trying (and most successful) periods of the nations’ history: the Showa era. In this article, you’ll learn all about Showa Day in Japan and gain some knowledge about the emperor behind it!

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1. What is Showa Day in Japan?

A Sketch Drawing of Emperor Showa

Showa Day is meant to be a time of reflection on the past and anticipation of the future, or 将来 (shōrai). The day shares a name with 昭和天皇 (Shōwa tennō), or Emperor Showa, who ruled as Emperor of Japan from 1926 to 1989—the Showa Period, which was marked by both crippling obstacles and amazing successes. 

In Japanese, the word 昭和 (Shōwa) means “enlightened peace.” This is the name given Emperor Hirohito (Showa) posthumously and the name of the era during which he reigned. 

Many consider Emperor Showa to have been a strong leader and credit him with having helped Japan recover economically following such tragedies as World War II, the Second Sino-Japanese War, and Japan’s first-ever occupation by foreign forces. Despite these setbacks, the nation was able to rise and become one of the leading nations from an economic standpoint—this success was further spurred onward by the 1964 Tokyo Olympics

    → Want to learn more about Japan’s most notable figures? Then head over to our lesson series Top 10 Japanese Historical Figures to learn about such people as Ieyasu Tokugawa and Takeda Shingen.

2. Showa Day Traditions

Several People Admiring Cherry Blossoms

Because Showa Day marks the beginning of Golden Week, many people begin making travel plans far in advance. 

Showa Day celebrations in Japan tend to be laidback in nature, with many people traveling to see friends, family, and other loved ones for quiet reunions. Emperor Showa was well-known for his great love of nature and the outdoors; in this spirit, many people opt to spend the day cherry blossom viewing or organizing other outdoor activities such as picnics. 

Some people also visit shrines, museums, or the Musashino Imperial Mausoleum in Tokyo (where the body of Emperor Showa is buried). Many museums, such as the National Showa Memorial Museum in Tokyo, hold lectures on this day and teach visitors about the Showa Period and World War II.


3. Greenery Day

Once upon a time, April 29 was known as Greenery Day. It was so named because of Emperor Showa’s love of nature, and the day encouraged things such as spending time outdoors and promoting environmental health. 

In 2007, Greenery Day was moved to May 4, and April 29 was renamed Showa Day. This allowed for Golden Week to contain a holiday dedicated to Emperor Showa himself and another holiday for the environment.

Even earlier on, before Emperor Showa’s death, April 29 was simply the Emperor’s holiday. 

Confused, yet? 


4. Essential Vocabulary for Showa Day in Japan

Black and White Image of the Show Era in Japan

Want to impress your Japanese-speaking friends by talking about Showa Day in Japanese? Here are some of the vocabulary words from the article, plus a few more. 

  • 祝日 (shukujitsu) – holiday [n.]
  • 誕生日 (tanjōbi) – birthday [n.]
  • 将来 (shōrai) – future [n.]
  • 昭和の日 (Shōwa no hi) – Showa Day [n.]
  • 昭和天皇 (Shōwa tennō) – Emperor Showa [p.]
  • 昭和 (Shōwa) – Showa era [n.]
  • 4月29日 (shigatsu nijū kunichi) – April 29 [p.]
  • 偲ぶ (shinobu) – commemorate [v.]
  • 復興 (fukkō) – reconstruction [n.]
  • 日本国憲法 (Nihonkoku kempō) – Constitution of Japan [p.]
  • 文化功労者 (Bunka kōrōsha) – Person of Cultural Merit [p.]
  • 顧みる (kaerimiru) – think back [v.]

Make sure to visit our Showa Day vocabulary list to hear and practice the pronunciation of each word and phrase! 

Final Thoughts

Due to the strength of leadership shown by Emperor Showa, Japan was able to bounce back better than ever after some of the nation’s most unfortunate and trying times. 

Are there any leaders of your nation, past or present, who have immensely helped your country in hard times? Is there a holiday to commemorate them? We look forward to hearing from you! 

If you enjoyed this lesson and would like to read more insightful blog posts on Japanese culture or the language, you might enjoy these articles:

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Nyūgakushiki: The School Entrance Ceremony in Japan

The school entrance ceremony in Japan, or Nyūgakushiki in Japanese, is one of the most momentous occasions in a student’s life, and it takes place each year as the cherry blossoms bloom.

In this article, you’ll learn all about this celebratory season and gain some new vocabulary along the way.

Let’s get started!

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1. What is the School Entrance Ceremony?

The Japanese school entrance ceremony name is Nyūgakushiki.

Nyūgakushiki is a time of both encouragement and excitement about the coming year for students in every grade, though the Japanese high school entrance ceremony may be the most exciting for new students.

During a school entrance ceremony, Japanese students celebrate their enrollment in a school, and that enrollment is also authorized. A school entrance ceremony, or 入学式 (にゅうがくしき), can take place for enrollment in schools of any education level. Thus, there is a Japanese elementary school entrance ceremony, one for middle school, another for high school, and even enrollment ceremonies for universities and vocational schools.

2. When are the Entrance Ceremonies?

Mt. Fuji During the Springtime

The school entrance ceremonies typically take place in early April, not long after the graduation ceremonies in late March.

3. A Japanese School Entrance Ceremony

Japanese Parents Standing with Their Children for a School Entrance Ceremony

As mentioned, in Japan, school entrance ceremony season takes place after the graduation ceremonies near the end of March. During a graduation ceremony, graduating students are awarded a school certificate; in universities and graduate schools, students receive a diploma. The graduation ceremonies in Japan are very formal; men wear nice suits, while females who are graduating must wear traditional kimono and hakama.

For the school entrance ceremony, Japanese students going into high school wear their brand-new uniforms and participate in the welcoming ceremony. From elementary school to high school, the homeroom teacher calls each new student, who the principal then offers words of encouragement and support. Afterward, a student chosen as a representative makes a pledge concerning their new school life. For sentimental reasons, someone may also take a photograph of the new class together.

Sometimes, there may be a 来賓挨拶 (らいひんあいさつ), or “speech by a guest of honor,” for the ceremony.

4. Two Important Songs

Do you know what Japanese students sing at each school entrance ceremony?

There are actually two things they can sing. During a ceremony, there is a time for 校歌斉唱 (こうかせいしょう), or “singing of school song.” Students also sing the 国歌 (こっか), or “national anthem.”

5. Essential Japanese Vocabulary for School Entrance Ceremonies

Someone Playing the Piano for the Japanese National Anthem

Are you ready to review some of the vocabulary words from this article? Here’s a list of the most important Japanese words and phrases for the school entrance ceremony season!

  • 春 (はる) — “spring”
  • 式 (しき) — “ceremony”
  • 入学式 (にゅうがくしき) — “school entrance ceremony”
  • 学校行事 (がっこう ぎょうじ) — “school event”
  • 新入生 (しんにゅうせい) — “new student”
  • 国旗 (こっき) — “national flag”
  • 国歌 (こっか) — “national anthem”
  • 在校生 (ざいこうせい) — “current student”
  • 歓迎の言葉 (かんげいのことば) — “words of welcome”
  • 来賓挨拶 (らいひんあいさつ) — “speech by a guest of honor”
  • 校歌斉唱 (こうかせいしょう) — “singing of school song”

To hear the pronunciation of each word and phrase, and to read them alongside relevant images, be sure to check out our Japanese School Entrance Ceremony vocabulary list!

Final Thoughts

We hope you enjoyed learning about Nyūgakushiki with us, and that you took away some valuable cultural information.

Do you have a special school entrance ceremony in your country? If so, how do you celebrate or participate in it? We look forward to hearing from you in the comments!

If you’re fascinated with Japanese culture and can’t get enough, we recommend that you check out the following pages on JapanesePod101.com:

That should be enough to quench your thirst for Japanese cultural knowledge for a little while, but for the full learning experience and more fun resources, create your free lifetime account today. JapanesePod101.com has tons of learning resources for learners at every level, so there’s something for everyone.

We look forward to having you!

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Celebrating Hinamatsuri: The Japanese Doll Festival

Hinamatsuri (Japanese Doll Festival) is a special Japanese holiday dedicated to praying for the well-being of little girls. This holiday is unique to the Japanese culture, and is steeped in both traditional and modern cultural values and beliefs.

In this article, you’ll learn many interesting Japanese Doll Festival facts, from the holiday’s origins to how it’s celebrated today. Are you ready? Let’s get started!

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1. What is the Japanese Traditional Doll Festival?

The Japanese Doll Festival (Hinamatsuri), unique to Japan, is a festival that prays for the healthy growth of little girls.

The history of Hinamatsuri goes back a long way. It’s said that the hihina (or hiina) play, which involved making little dolls out of paper or earth and dressing them in clothes, and which went on over a thousand years ago, was the prototype of the modern-day Hinamatsuri.

Gradually, this evolved into a custom called Nagashibina, which was to pray for sound health. During Nagashibina, these dolls were used as substitutes for real people, had people’s bad luck transferred to them, and were sent floating down the river.

After this, with the passing of time, it became typical for the dolls to be displayed and admired indoors, as they are today, as mamori-hina. The mamori-hina watch over the happiness and growth of the daughter of the house.

A girl’s first Doll Festival is referred to as 初節句 (hatsuzekku). For this celebration, the maternal grandparents often give a set of dolls. With this gift, they place a wish that the doll will be used as a scapegoat so that their cute granddaughter will not suffer from disaster.

2. Japanese Doll Festival Date

Peach Blossoms

Each year, the Doll’s Festival takes place on March 3. If you match it to the old Japanese calendar, Hinamatsuri takes place when the peach trees are blooming.

3. Japanese Doll Festival Activities and Displays

People display a set of graceful dolls in ancient court costumes on a tier of five to seven shelves, which is called 雛人形 (Hina Ningyō). The dolls are arranged as follows:

  • Emperor and Empress Dolls: Called 内裏雛 (だいりびな), these are displayed on the top shelf. Generally, the emperor doll is placed on the left side and the empress doll on the right. This custom also influences weddings—the groom sits on the left, and the bride on the right. Gold folding screens are arranged behind the emperor and empress dolls on a red felt carpet.
  • Three Court Ladies: Called 三人官女 (さんにんかんじょ), these are displayed on the second tier from the top. The court ladies care for the emperor and empress.
  • Five Court Musicians: Called 五人囃子 (ごにんばやし), these are displayed on the third tier from the top. The musicians are often depicted playing different musical instruments for the amusement of the emperor and empress.

People usually display the dolls a few weeks in advance of March 3. Some dolls are exquisite and have seven or eight layers of decoration. The value of such dolls can be more than 500,000 yen (or over $4,500). There are also popular compact types that can be decorated easily and stored in apartments and rental housing.

On the Doll Festival, these dolls are offered 菱餅 (hishimochi), or “diamond-shaped rice cakes,” and ひなあられ (hina-arare), or “sweet rice crackers.” A celebration is then held in front of the dolls, during which people consume lots of Japanese Doll Festival food and drinks. These include 白酒 (しろざけ), or “white sake,” and a meal of chirashizushi and clam soup.

It is said that it’s best to put away the dolls as soon as the festival is over. This is because of the saying “late to clear away then late to marry.” Some believe that “a daughter who cannot clean will not become a good bride.”

4. Momo no Sekku

Do you know which flower is used for Doll’s Festival decorations, and why?

The correct answer is a “peach blossom.” Peach blossoms bloom from the end of March to the beginning of April of the lunar calendar, just around the time of the Doll’s Festival. For this reason, the festival is also known as 桃の節句 (Momo no Sekku) or “Peach Seasonal Festival.”

In the past, peaches were believed to have the power to purge evil spirits. Therefore, peach blossoms are used as decorations for the Doll’s Festival to obtain the protection of peaches and help girls grow up healthy. 

5. Must-Know Vocab for the Japanese Doll’s Festival

Japanese Emperor and Empress Dolls

Ready to review some of the vocabulary words from this article? Here’s a list of the essential vocabulary words you’ll need to talk about the Doll Festival in Japanese!

  • ひな祭り (ひなまつり) — “Doll Festival”
  • 白酒 (しろざけ) — “white sake”
  • 三人官女 (さんにんかんじょ) — “three court ladies”
  • 桃の花 (もものはな) — “peach blossom”
  • ぼんぼり (ぼんぼり) — “paper lamp”
  • 右大臣 (うだいじん) — “minister of the right”
  • 左大臣 (さだいじん) — “minister of the left”
  • お雛様 (おひなさま) — “hina doll”
  • 雛あられ (ひなあられ) — “hina arare
  • 金屏風 (きんびょうぶ) — “gold screen”
  • 五人囃子 (ごにんばやし) — “five court musicians”
  • 女雛 (めびな) — “empress doll”
  • 男雛 (おびな) — “emperor doll”
  • 内裏雛 (だいりびな) — “emperor and empress dolls”
  • 菱餅 (ひしもち) — “diamond-shaped rice cake”
  • 蛤のお吸い物 (はまぐりのおすいもの) — “clear broth soup with clams”
  • ちらし寿司 (ちらしずし) — “chirashi-zushi”

To hear the pronunciation of each word, and to read them alongside relevant images, visit our Japanese Doll’s Festival vocabulary list!

Final Thoughts

We hope you enjoyed learning about the Japanese Doll Festival with us! Are there any similar holidays in your country, or is this holiday very new to you? Let us know in the comments!

If you’re interested in learning more about the unique Japanese culture and holidays, you can visit the following pages on JapanesePod101.com:

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Kenkoku Kinen no Hi: Japan’s National Foundation Day

Japan is a country steeped in a rich history and fascinating culture, both of which the Japanese people reflect on each year on 建国記念日 (けんこくきねんび), or National Foundation Day in Japanese. This is a major holiday in Japan, celebrating the beginning of the country’s history. In this article, you’ll learn all about Japan’s National Foundation Day, from its origins to modern-day celebrations and traditions.

Are you ready to dive in? Let’s get started!

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1. What is National Foundation Day in Japan?

National Foundation Day is a day to commemorate the founding of the country and cultivate a love for it. It’s celebrated on the day the first Emperor of Japan was crowned as the “Day that Japanese history began.” This national holiday was first celebrated during the Meiji Era, where it was known as Kigensetsu.

While many countries celebrate Foundation Day on the date that they became independent, Japan is different. In the past, Japan was ruled by an Emperor. The lineage of many generations of Emperors can be traced back to times of mythology thousands of years ago. The first Emperor was crowned by God with the purpose of expanding her realm, and has been respected by the Japanese people since ancient times. This is why Foundation Day is celebrated on the day that the first Emperor was crowned—the beginning of 日本の歴史 (にほんのれきし), or Japanese history.

2. Foundation Day Date

Japanese Flag Waving in the Wind

Each year, National Foundation Day in Japan takes place on February 11.

3. How Does Japan Celebrate National Foundation Day?

On National Foundation Day, Japan holds events such as political lectures, symposia, and gatherings throughout the country. The Emperor system has its controversies, with opinions being divided in recent years about it following the female line. The National Foundation Day is an opportunity to hear the views of experts on the state of the country, and to deepen one’s own thoughts.

Starting with the Meiji Jingu, which is dedicated to Emperor Meiji, there are shrines that hold festivals for events such as National Foundation Festivals and Kigensai. There are a variety of festivals held that involve doing things such as pulling a portable shrine and playing drum and pipe music through a spectacular parade.

While remembering the many ancestors who were instrumental in the development of Japan for thousands of years since ancient times, people make wishes that the country will be even more prosperous in the future.

4. First Emperor of Japan

Who was the first Emperor of Japan, or 初代天皇 (しょだいてんのう)?

The correct answer is Emperor Jinmu. According to the Nihon Shoki, Emperor Jinmu was crowned on Lunar New Year’s Day of 660 B.C., or February 11 on the solar calendar. The Nihon Shoki is a book that was compiled at the beginning of the eighth century and is the oldest history book in Japan. In the book, it’s recorded that Emperor Jinmu was born with intelligence and a strong will.

Did you know that Japan has a unique way for counting years? It’s called the Kōki and starts counting from the year of the coronation of Emperor Jinmu. The first year in the Imperial Era was 660 B.C.

5. Essential Vocabulary for National Foundation Day

Japanese People Celebrating National Foundation Day

Ready to study some of the vocabulary words from this article? Here’s a list of the most important words and phrases for National Foundation Day!

  • 祝日 (しゅくじつ) — “holiday”
  • 建国 (けんこく) — “founding of a nation”
  • 日本書紀 (にほんしょき) — “Chronicles of Japan”
  • 神武天皇 (じんむてんのう) — “Emperor Jimmu”
  • 即位 (そくい) — “coronation”
  • 日本の歴史 (にほんのれきし) — “Japanese history”
  • 初代天皇 (しょだいてんのう) — “first emperor of Japan”
  • 建国記念日 (けんこくきねんび) — “National Foundation Day”
  • 歴史 (れきし) — “history”
  • 紀元節 (きげんせつ) — “Empire Day”
  • 公布 (こうふ) — “promulgation”

To hear each of these vocabulary words pronounced, and to read them alongside relevant images, be sure to check out our Japanese National Foundation Day vocabulary list! You can also watch the video above to learn more essential vocabulary with Risa!

Final Thoughts

As you can see, Foundation Day in Japan is a unique holiday that pays tribute to the country’s history and early beginnings, while simultaneously encouraging people to look ahead to the future. Does your country have a similar holiday? Let us know in the comments section!

If you’re interested in continuing to learn about Japanese culture and holidays, you may find the following pages useful:

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Bunka no hi: Celebrating Culture Day in Japan

Bunka no hi, celebrated each year in November, is a relatively new Japanese cultural holiday that has experienced some adaptations over time. Originating during the reign of Emperor Meiji, and originally called Meijisetsu, this holiday was a day for Japan to celebrate the birth of its emperor until 1948.

In this article, you’ll learn the most pertinent facts about Culture Day in Japan: activities, meaning, and what role the Constitution of Japan played in evolving the holiday into what it is today.

At JapanesePod101.com, we hope to make every aspect of your learning journey both fun and informative!

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1. What is Culture Day in Japan?

Culture Day is a Japanese national holiday for appreciating peace and freedom, and was originally put in place to celebrate the birthday of Emperor Meiji. The entire week from November 1 to November 7 is designated as Education and Culture Week, with a focus on Culture Day. Various events such as public lectures and hands-on activities are held, and admission to art galleries and museums is free.

2. When is Culture Day?

November Holiday

On November 3, Culture Day in Japan is celebrated. Later in this article, you’ll discover why this date in particular was chosen. 😉

3. Japan Culture Day Events & Celebrations

On Culture Day, Japan puts on events with a deep connection to culture. For example, at the Meiji Shrine in Tokyo, a Fall Festival is held which is dedicated to traditional arts such as Bugaku and horseback archery. In Asakusa in Tokyo, and in Shiga Prefecture, parades are held in which people dress in costumes from different eras to demonstrate Japan’s history. In Kanagawa Prefecture, a reenactment of the Daimyo’s Procession from the Edo era is also held. Events such as these provide the opportunity to once again look at the culture that has been passed down through the ages.

At the Imperial Palace, an Order of Culture Ceremony is held. During this culture award ceremony, people who have made remarkable achievements in the development and improvement of science, technology, culture, and the arts are awarded a medal. In recent years, world-renowned conductor Seiji Ozawa, leading architect Tadao Ando, and famous fashion designer Issey Miyake have all been honored. Images of the emperor personally presenting the awards always appear on the news.

For National Culture Day, Japanese arts festivals sponsored by the Agency for Cultural Affairs are also held. During this time, those with a proven track record of excellence in the performing arts give performances. In addition to this, from all of the participating performances and works of art, including those approved by the Executive Committee, a grand prize, excellence award, and newcomer award are presented to those who have made great contributions to the promotion of art and culture.

4. The Japanese Constitution & Culture Day

Child Doing Crafts

Do you know which law caused this holiday to be known as Culture Day?

The answer is the Japanese constitution. The constitution was proclaimed on November 3, 1946. Because of its focus on peace and culture, the anniversary of the proclamation of the constitution was designated Culture Day.

Incidentally, the Japanese constitution was actually enacted six months later, on May 3. This is also a holiday, known as Constitution Day.

5. Must-Know Vocabulary for Bunka No Hi in Japan

Couple Looking at Painting

  • 劇場
    げきじょう
    Theater
  • 十一月
    じゅういちがつ
    November
  • 美術館
    びじゅつかん
    Art museum
  • 美術館
    びじゅつかん
    Museum
  • 文化の日
    ぶんかのひ
    Culture Day
  • 文化
    ぶんか
    Culture
  • 休日
    きゅうじつ
    Day off
  • 文化勲章
    ぶんかくんしょう
    The Order of Culture
  • 明治天皇
    めいじてんのう
    Emperor Meiji
  • 授業参観
    じゅぎょうさんかん
    Class observation day
  • 工作
    こうさく
    Craft
  • 文化祭
    ぶんかさい
    Cultural festival

To hear each of these vocabulary words pronounced, and see each one accompanied by a relevant image, be sure to check out our Japanese Culture Day vocabulary list!

Parting Words…

We hope you enjoyed learning about Bunka no hi with us, and that you took away something valuable from this lesson.

Does your country have a cultural holiday? If so, how do you celebrate it? Let us know in the comments; we always love to hear from you!

Learning about a country’s culture may be the most enriching and exciting aspect of trying to master a language. If you want to continue delving into Japanese culture, you may be interested in the following pages:

We know that learning Japanese isn’t easy, but at JapanesePod101.com, we do everything we can to make it fun! You really can master the language and come to understand Japanese culture, and we’ll be here with help and encouragement on each step of your language-learning journey!

Happy learning!

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Taiiku No Hi: Health and Sports Day in Japan

From time to time, we all need to reevaluate our health—our dietary habits, our exercise patterns (or lack thereof), and our ability to live each day well. On Health and Sports Day, the people of Japan do just this. This holiday encourages and inspires good health and more exercise at every level of society, but most especially for children and young adults.

In this article, you’ll learn about Health-Sports Day in Japan and how it affects the health and lives of people all over the country.

At JapanesePod101.com, we hope to make every aspect of your language-learning journey both fun and informative!

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1. What is Health and Sports Day in Japan?

Health and Sports Day is a national Japanese holiday dedicated to inspiring a love of sports, exercise, and good health. Further, people are encouraged to think about the role of exercise and health in their daily lives.

Do you know what event inspired the creation of Health-Sports Day?

The correct answer is the Tokyo Olympics. On October 10, 1964, the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympic Games was held in great fanfare.

To commemorate this event, two years later, from 1966, October 10 became a national holiday to mark Sports Day. After this, since 2000, and in line with the Happy Monday System, Sports Day was moved to the second Monday of October. This means that every year, many people get to enjoy the feeling of playing sports under a fine autumn sky.

2. When is Japanese Health Sports Day?

Many Sports Items

Each year, Japan celebrates Health-Sports Day on the second Monday of October. For your convenience, here’s a list of this holiday’s date for the next ten years.

  • 2019: October 14
  • 2020: October 12
  • 2021: October 11
  • 2022: October 10
  • 2023: October 9
  • 2024: October 14
  • 2025: October 13
  • 2026: October 12
  • 2027: October 11
  • 2028: October 9

3. Celebrating Sports Day in Japan

On National Health and Sports Day, Japanese kindergartens, schools, companies, and regional organizations across the country hold events such as track meets. On top of relays and races, other more game-like events such as toss-ball, tug of war, and scavenger hunts, are also held.

There are also events such as sports festivals, physical fitness tests, and marathons, which the entire family can participate in. On Health and Sports Day, Japanese people can enjoy the autumn season, which is known in Japan as the season for sports.

At kindergarten and elementary school sports events, families also run in order to support their running child. A common sight on Health Sports Day in Japan is that of fathers holding video cameras, lined up in the best position for taking a video while cheering loudly through the viewfinder. The sight of children running with all their might is very cute and is sure to make anyone cheer excitedly. At lunchtime, the children eat lunch with their families.

Each municipality also organizes a sports event for Health and Sports Day in Japan. These include events where parents and children can enjoy Frisbee, bowling, and marathons. Some places also offer health assessments for adults to raise awareness of their own lack of exercise.

On Health-Sports Day, Japanese amateur teams in sports such as soccer and baseball form inter-league games and have fun while breaking a sweat.

4. Fine Weather, Indeed

Two People Jogging

Statistically, this day has a high likelihood of having good weather. According to the statistics, in the thirty-four years since Sports Day was first held on October 10, there has been a more than eighty-five percent chance of no rain in Tokyo.

5. Essential Vocabulary for Health-Sports Day in Japan

Taking Care of Health

Here’s some essential vocabulary you should know to talk about Health and Sports Day in Japanese!

  • スポーツ (スポーツ) — sports
  • ジョギング (ジョギング) — jogging
  • 体育の日 (たいいくのひ) — Health-Sports Day
  • 運動 (うんどう) — exercise
  • 健康 (けんこう) — health
  • 運動会 (うんどうかい) — sports festival
  • 体力測定 (たいりょく そくてい) — measurement of physical fitness
  • 運動不足 (うんどうぶそく) — lack of exercise
  • スポーツに親しむ (スポーツにしたしむ) — familiar with sports
  • スポーツの秋 (スポーツのあき) — Autumn is the season for sports.
  • 1964年夏季オリンピック (1964ねん かきオリンピック) — 1964 Summer Olympics

To hear each of these vocabulary words pronounced, alongside relevant images, check out our Japanese Health-Sports Day vocabulary list!

How JapanesePod101 Can Help You Learn More Japanese

We hope you enjoyed learning about Health-Sports Day in Japan with us, and learned something new.

Are there any holidays or special events in your country to encourage better health? Tell us about it in the comments; we love hearing from you!

To continue learning about Japanese culture and the language, explore JapanesePod101.com. We provide an array of fun and effective learning tools for every learner, at every level:

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Tanabata: The Star Festival in Japan – Vega and Altair’s Love Story

Do you know why the Japanese focus on the Altair and Vega stars one night a year? This has to do with the Tanabata story, which tells about the love between a cow-herder and a weaver (we’ll give you the full story later in this article!).

During the Star Festival, Japan sets its eyes to the night sky and the Milky Way, hoping that the two constellations, which represent the cow-herder and weaver, will meet.

The Star Festival Japan celebrates offers a fun and unique glance at Japanese culture and thought. Learning about the Tanabata Festival is a wonderful way to improve your language skills, too, as knowing a country’s culture is key to mastering its language!

At JapanesePod101.com, we want to make this learning journey both fun and informative for you!

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1. What is the Japanese Star Festival?

According to the legend, this is the one day a year that 織姫 (Orihime), meaning “the weaving princess,” and 彦星 (Hikoboshi), meaning “the cow herder,” can spend together. On this night, the Japanese people are more concerned about the weather than on any other night, as the weather dictates whether or not the two can see each other.

2. When is the Tanabata Festival?

July 7 is the Star Festival

The Star Festival, or 七夕 (Tanabata), means “the evening of the seventh,” and is celebrated on July 7th each year. This day has been celebrated in Japan since the Edo Period (1603 – 1867), and because of differences between the Lunar and Gregorian calendars, Tanabata festivals are actually held on both July 7th and August 7th.

3. How is Tanabata Celebrated?

China, Vietnam, and Korea have their own versions of the Star Festival, but in Japan, people write wishes on strips of paper and hang them up on bamboo leaves along with decorations shaped like stars and such. Among the wishes written by the children at preschools and elementary schools, there are sometimes those that say, in shaky, just-learned letters, “I wish that Orihime and Hikoboshi can meet each other.” Isn’t that cute?

The most famous festival is held in Sendai from the fifth to the eight of August. Near Tokyo, in Hiratsuka, Kanagawa, the largest festival in the Kanto area is held for a few days around July 7th.

At these festivals, people gather on the main street where there are decorations, food stalls, and sometimes entertainment, including music and dancing. The common traditional food of Tanabata includes たこ焼き (takoyaki), 焼きそば (yakisoba), and cold beer.

There is also a well-known song that is sung during Tanabata, 笹の葉・ささのは・sasa no ha, which means “bamboo leaves.”

4. The Tanabata Story

Star Festival Event

So, what is the Japanese Star Festival story? Well…

A long time ago, Orihime, the daughter of the King of Heaven, and Hikoboshi, a cattle herd, fell in love. Orihime’s work was to weave at the loom, while Hikoboshi’s job was to take care of the cattle. Both were extremely hard-working, so the King of Heaven gave them permission to be married.

However, both Orihime and Hikoboshi enjoyed married life so much that as soon as they were married, they stopped working. Angered, the King of Heaven put the Milky Way between Orihime and Hikoboshi, separating them. But, feeling some pity for the two, the King of Heaven permitted them to meet just once a year, at the Star Festival.

The Milky Way has no bridge, but when the Star Festival comes around, birds called European magpies suddenly come flying out of nowhere, and build a bridge for the two of them…

And this is the story of the Star Festival.

So why do people care about the weather on the night of the Star Festival, you ask? Because if it rains, the volume of water in the Milky Way rises, so the European magpies can’t build a bridge, meaning that Orihime and Hikoboshi can’t meet each other.

5. Vocab You Need to Know for the Star Festival

Orihime

Here’s some vocabulary you should know for the Japanese Star Festival!

  • アルタイル (アルタイル) — Altair
  • ベガ (ベガ) — Vega
  • 天の川 (あまのがわ) — Milky Way
  • 七夕 (たなばた) — Star Festival
  • 浴衣 (ゆかた) — Yukata
  • 装飾 (そうしょく) — Decoration
  • 織姫 (おりひめ) — Orihime
  • 願い事 (ねがいごと) — Wish
  • 短冊 (たんざく) — Small piece of paper
  • 7月7日 (しちがつ なのか) — July 7th
  • 彦星 (ひこぼし) — Hikoboshi
  • 笹 (ささ) — Bamboo leaf
  • 笹飾り (ささかざり) — Bamboo decoration

To hear each vocabulary word pronounced, check out our Japanese Star Festival vocabulary list!

Conclusion

What do you think about the Japanese Star Festival and its story? Did you learn anything new today? Let us know in the comments; we always love to hear from you!

To continue learning about Japanese culture and the language, visit us at JapanesePod101.com! We provide fun and practical learning tools for every learner, including free Japanese vocabulary lists and more insightful blog posts like this one! You can also take advantage of our online community forums to chat with fellow students or ask for help! By upgrading to a Premium Plus account, you can start relishing in the benefits of our MyTeacher program, which allows you to learn Japanese one-on-one with your own teacher!

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Chichi No Hi: How to Celebrate Fathers Day in Japan

What day is Father’s Day, and what do Japanese traditions look like?

Fathers Day in Japan (known by the Japanese as 父の日 or Chichi No Hi), is similar to Father’s Day in other countries. It’s simply a day to honor one’s father or father-figure, and to show him appreciation and gratitude for all he does.

However, for each aspect of Father’s Day that’s familiar around the world, there’s a distinction that makes it uniquely Japanese. In this article, we’ll be going over common Fathers Day traditions in Japan, from the most popular gifts to its stance next to Mother’s Day.

At JapanesePod101.com, we hope to make this lesson both fun and informative as we examine Japanese culture from the perspective of Chichi No Hi. After all, any successful language-learner can tell you the importance of comprehending a country’s culture in mastering its language.

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1. What is Japanese Father’s Day?

In Japan, Father’s Day is called Chichi No Hi, with chichi meaning one’s own father. The Japanese version of this holiday is similar to versions around the world; Father’s Day is a time to let your father (or father-figure) know how much he means to you.

Just like in many other countries, Father’s Day tends to fall in the shadows of Mother’s Day, however. A Japanese mother is more likely to receive gifts and affection on Mother’s Day than a father is on Father’s Day.

2. When is Father’s Day in Japan?

Father's Day is on a Sunday

So, when is Fathers Day celebrated in Japan?

The date of Father’s Day varies each year, though it always takes place on the third Sunday of June. For your convenience, we’ve prepared a list of this holiday’s date for the next ten years.

  • 2019: June 16
  • 2020: June 21
  • 2021: June 20
  • 2022: June 19
  • 2023: June 18
  • 2024: June 16
  • 2025: June 15
  • 2026: June 21
  • 2027: June 20
  • 2028: June 18

3. How Do the Japanese Celebrate Father’s Day?

A Father with His Daughter and Wife

On Fathers Day, Japan celebrates and shows thankfulness toward fathers, though traditions tend to be profit-oriented. (As seems to be true in the majority of participating countries.)

That said, the most common way that children in Japan show their fathers gratitude is through gift-giving. Gifts tend to be food- or alcohol-related, with Japanese steaks (wagyuu) and traditional alcoholic beverages like sake being the most popular and well-received. A nice family meal is always appreciated, as well.

Other Father’s Day gifts and Father’s Day gift ideas include greeting cards, thank you notes, cash and gift cards, and origami creations. Some children also choose to gift their fathers with flowers at the beginning of the day.

Japanese Father’s Day celebrations don’t typically go beyond gift-giving, which is one way that traditions are unique here. For example, in the United States, spending quality time with one’s father is a popular tradition, and this isn’t the case here.

4. Father’s Day Gifts: The Universal Struggle

We all struggle with Fathers Day ideas. No matter how well we know our dads or how well we get along with them, getting them a gift they’ll actually like is difficult. This struggle exists in Japan, as well.

According to SoraNews24, there’s a huge disconnect in Japan concerning what fathers want on their special day. Children (and entire families) tend to give their fathers more expensive gifts, like the Japanese steaks, when their fathers would actually better appreciate something inexpensive and from the heart—like a thoughtful note of gratitude, or even a little bit of quality time with their children.

5. Useful Vocabulary to Celebrate Father’s Day in Japan

Shochu

Here’s some of the most important vocabulary you should know for Father’s Day in Japan!

  • 日曜日 (にちようび) — Sunday
  • ビール (ビール) — Beer
  • お父さん (おとうさん) — Father
  • 息子 (むすこ) — Son
  • 娘 (むすめ) — Daughter
  • 夕食 (ゆうしょく) — Dinner
  • 愛する (あいする) — Love
  • 焼酎 (しょうちゅう) — Shochu
  • プレゼント (プレゼント) — Present
  • 祝う (いわう) — Celebrate
  • ネクタイ (ネクタイ) — Tie
  • 挨拶状 (あいさつじょう) — Greeting card
  • 六月の第三日曜日 (ろくがつの だいさんにちようび) — third Sunday in June
  • 父の日 (ちちのひ) — Father’s Day

To hear each of these Japanese Father’s Day vocabulary words pronounced, check out our relevant vocabulary list. Here, you’ll find each word accompanied by an audio file of its pronunciation.

Conclusion

Does your country celebrate Father’s Day, or a similar holiday honoring fathers? If so, how do you celebrate it? Let us know in the comments! We look forward to hearing from you.

To learn more about Japanese culture and the language, visit us at JapanesePod101.com! We provide practical learning tools for every learner, including insightful blog posts like this one and free Japanese vocabulary lists to expand your word knowledge. You can also listen to our podcasts, chat with fellow Japanese learners on our forums, or upgrade to Premium Plus to take advantage of our MyTeacher program!

Learning—and mastering—a language is a formidable task. But with your hard work and determination, combined with our lessons and support, you’ll be speaking like a native before you know it!

Best wishes, and Happy Fathers Day!

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