Planning to visit Japan in 2019? Get the most out of your experience! Learn here about the most important holidays in Japan - fast and easy with JapanesePod101!
|January 14, 2019||Coming of Age Day|
|February 3, 2019||Bean throwing Day|
|February 11, 2019||National Foundation Day|
|March 3, 2019||Doll’s Festival Day|
|March 14, 2019||White Day|
|March||Spring Equinox day|
|early April||School Entrance Ceremony Season|
|April 29, 2019||Showa Day|
|April||Cherry Blossom Viewing|
|May 5, 2019||Children’s Day|
|June 16, 2019||Father’s Day|
|July 7, 2019||Star Festival|
|July 15, 2019||Marine Day|
|August 11, 2019||Mountain Day|
|August 13, 2019||Bon Festival (8/13-15)|
|September 16, 2019||Respect for the Aged Day|
|September 23, 2019||Autumn equinox|
|October 14, 2019||Health-Sports Day|
|October||School Festival Season|
|November 3, 2019||Culture Day|
|November 15, 2019||Celebration for 7, 5, & 3 Year Olds|
|November 23, 2019||Labor Thanksgiving Day|
|December 23, 2019||The Emperor’s Birthday|
|End of December||Year-end party|
|End of December||Year-end Cleaning|
Coming of Age Day is celebrated on the second Monday in January. In Japan, a person legally becomes an adult at the age of twenty, and this holiday congratulates and encourages those young people who have just turned twenty. On this holiday, a coming of age ceremony is held in each municipality. For the ceremony, young people who are turning twenty gather at public places, such as City Hall, and receive congratulations from town officials before being awarded a souvenir. A representative of the new adults also makes a short speech expressing resolutions for a healthy, productive adult life.
節分 (Setsubun) literally means “the day that marks the change from one season to the next.” Since the Edo period in the 16th and 17th centuries, the day before 立春 (risshun), meaning “spring,” has been the only one with the name 節分 (Setsubun). At places such as homes and temples, people say, 鬼は外、福は内！(Oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi!), meaning “Demons outside, fortune inside!” Then, they throw roasted soybeans, known as 福豆 (fukumame) or “fortune beans.” Demons are a big part of throwing the beans. Fathers will often wear a demon mask and dress as a demon.
This 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.” While many countries celebrate their national day on the date they gained independence, Japan is different. In the past, an Emperor ruled Japan. The lineage of many generations of the Emperor can be traced back to times of mythology, thousands of years ago. The first Emperor was a descendant of the sun goddess, 天照大神 (Amaterasu ōmikami), and has been respected by the Japanese people since ancient times. This is why National Foundation Day is celebrated on the day that the first Emperor was crowned, because it represents the beginning of the history of Japan.
The “Doll’s Festival,” or 雛祭り (Hina-matsuri), is held on March 3. It’s an annual event to pray for the healthy growth of girls. The prototype for the Doll’s Festival dates back to the Heian period, lasting from the 8th century to the 12th century. During that era, people believed that a paper doll could contain bad spirits. So they would send the dolls floating down the river, taking any misfortune with them. It was from this practice that the custom of praying for one’s daughter’s safety originated. Known as 流し雛 (nagashibina), this custom has evolved to its present form in which dolls are used as room decorations in order to protect one’s daughter from calamity.
On this day, one month after Valentine’s Day, men return the favor for the chocolates they received from women on February 14. Originally, this day was an occasion for giving gifts such as marshmallows and candy to women, but it has gradually shifted towards other sweets and accessories.
The Spring or Vernal Equinox was established as a public holiday with the intention of honoring nature and showing compassion to living things. In Japan, the weather becomes warmer towards the end of March, and this day feels like the coming of spring. With the easing of the severe cold, the blossoming of flowers and trees, and animals waking up from hibernation, the period just before and after Spring Equinox Day is a time for thinking about the workings of nature. ぼた餅 (Botamochi) or “rice dumpling covered with bean paste” is a symbol of the Spring Equinox. It’s given as an offering at the family altar and grave, and eaten after ancestor memorial services.
School entrance ceremonies celebrate and authorize enrollment in a school. At entrance ceremonies, freshmen are called one by one and often shout a reply. Entrance ceremonies occur each year around the time that cherry blossoms bloom. Freshmen dress in brand new uniforms and ceremonial dress, and participate in the welcoming ceremony. From elementary to high school, the homeroom teacher calls the name of each new student, who then receives a greeting and words of encouragement from the principal.
April 29 of each year is 昭和の日 (Shōwa no hi) or “Showa Day.” The day marks the birth of Emperor Showa, also known as Emperor Hirohito. The national holiday was created with the goal of compelling people to think about the country’s future, while reflecting upon the everyday hardships and restoration achieved during the Showa Period, from 1926 to 1989.
In Tokyo, a gathering to celebrate Showa Day is held at 明治神宮会館 (Meiji Jingu Kaikan). At the event, lectures are held on the turbulent times of the Showa Period, as well as the future of the country.
花見 (Hanami) is a custom unique to Japan in which we view cherry blossoms and celebrate the coming of spring. Cherry blossoms can only be enjoyed for a short period of time, as they fall off just two weeks after blooming. Cherry blossoms are an incredibly important flower to the Japanese, and since ancient times they have had a great impact on the Japanese appreciation of the changing seasons, as well as its aesthetic sense. It’s customary at cherry blossom viewings to eat a special boxed lunch, drink alcohol, and chat with one’s friends while enjoying the cherry blossoms. Staking out a good spot to see the cherry blossoms and laying out a plastic sheet, which is called 場所取り(bashotori), are important steps of the preparation.
The Boys’ Festival, or 端午の節句 (Tango no Sekku), is an annual event held on May 5. It began when the Chinese custom of exorcising evil spirits with herbs arrived in Japan. In Japan, it has been celebrated since ancient times as a traditional event to pray for the healthy growth of boys. These days, it’s a national holiday in Japan that’s also known as Children’s Day, and not only boys, but also girls, participate in the celebration. 柏餅 (kashiwamochi) is eaten during this day, which is a sweet made by stuffing rice cakes with bean paste and wrapping the cakes in oak leaves.
While not a holiday, Japan’s “rainy season” is one of the country’s most defining characteristics. This season typically lasts about a month during the summer, though the exact time frame varies throughout Japan. It typically goes from the beginning of June to the middle of July, and coincides with Japan’s plum season.
Each June, on the third Sunday, the Japanese celebrate Father’s Day. At its core, this holiday is celebrated in Japan similarly to how it is around the world: it’s a day of thanks and appreciation for one’s own father and fathers in general. On this day, it’s normal for Japanese fathers to receive gifts of alcohol, beef, or eel, or even special clothing items, from their children.
The Star Festival, or 七夕 (Tanabata), means “evening of the seventh,” and is celebrated on July 7 each year. 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. Orihime’s father, a powerful god, separated the deeply-in-love couple. Moved by his daughter’s tears, he ultimately granted them one day a year together. For the Star Festival, we put up many 笹飾り (sasakazari), meaning “hanging decorations.” A popular custom on or around Tanabata is for people to write their personal wishes on a piece of paper, and then hang the paper on a bamboo tree.
The Japanese celebrate Marine Day on the third Monday of each July. Today, this national holiday is a celebration of the ocean and the good things it provides to the Japanese. Occurring near the end of Japan’s rainy season, it’s also the perfect time for families or individuals to spend time at beaches or enjoying the outdoors.
During the months of July and August, a common sight in Japan are fireworks shows. There are several, and they take place in various parts of Japan; they can take the form of competitions, and are often common in resorts and during festivals.
A very new holiday in Japan, Mountain Day became officially recognized in 2016. At its core, this holiday is meant to be a celebration of mountains and all the good things that mountains provide.
お盆 (Obon) is held on or around the 15th of July or August and is an event in which families and relatives hold a memorial service to welcome the spirits of their deceased ancestors. The word Bon is said to be an abbreviation of the name for the Ghost Festival, which came from China. On the 13th, people light lanterns in order to welcome the ancestral spirits back home. The fire from these lights shows the spirits the location of the home. On the 14th and 15th, time is spent with the ancestral spirits; people lay food offerings at the household Buddhist altar for the returning ancestral spirits. On the 16th, they light the departure lamps and the spirits depart.
Respect for the Aged Day, or 敬老の日 (Keirō no Hi), is when people convey feelings of gratitude and wishes for good health to the elderly. These wishes can be from grandchildren to their grandparents, children to their parents, or anyone to the elderly in their neighborhood. This national holiday celebrates the longevity of the elderly who have devoted themselves to society for many years and demonstrates respect for them. On this day, parties are held for the elderly living in the local area.
The Autumnal Equinox, as its name suggests, is the turning point of autumn, or when the calendar states that summer turns into autumn. It started out as 皇霊祭 (Kōreisai), meaning “a royal court event held in the autumn,” and it became a national holiday to commemorate those who have died and to worship ancestors. Many people use the Autumnal Equinox to visit gravesites. One of the most common offerings to ancestors is お萩 (ohagi), a Japanese sweet in which cooked grains of rice are crushed slightly and then covered with bean paste.
During September, Japan faces the peak of its Typhoon season, during which huge thunderstorms and strong winds are common (and sometimes dangerous!). Though the Japanese are pretty much used to these large storms, the importance of taking precautions during this season can’t be overstated.
Sports Day is a national holiday with the theme of loving sports and cultivating a healthy mind and body. Various locations around the country hold sports-related events, and this day also provides an opportunity to think about health and exercise in our daily lives. The entire family can participate in sports festivals, physical fitness tests, and marathons.
In the month of October, many schools throughout Japan celebrate students’ achievements during the school festival season, with “Cultural Festivals.” These serve not only as a time to recognize students’ work, but to introduce potential students and their parents to the school’s atmosphere. Food, music, and dancing are all common aspects of these festivals.
Culture Day was designated a national holiday to appreciate peace and freedom and to promote culture within Japan. The holiday has been held since the Meiji period in the late 19th century and was originally called 明治節 (Meijisetsu). Then, it celebrated the birth of Emperor Meiji, and only in 1948 became known as Culture Day. At the Imperial Palace, an Order of Culture Ceremony is held. In the ceremony, people who have made remarkable achievements in the development and improvement of science, technology, culture, and the arts are awarded a medal.
七五三 (Shichi-Go-San), meaning “the Seven-Five-Three Festival,” is an annual event held to celebrate the growth of children turning seven, five, and three years old. In ancient times, many children died at a young age due to poverty, hunger, or poor hygiene. So people would pray at temples and shrines to express gratitude for their child’s safe growth to the ages of seven, five, or three, as well as to request the continued safe growth of the child.
Around November 15, children worship at shrines and temples dressed in their best clothes—kimono worn only on special occasions. 七五三 (Shichi-Go-San) is a major event for parents who take family photos featuring the well-dressed children; these pictures are often used later for New Year’s cards given to friends and family.
Labor Thanksgiving Day was established to value hard work, celebrate productivity, and to express thanks to other people. Originally, a ritual called 新嘗祭 (Niinamesai) was held to give thanks for the blessings of crops, and it remains to this day. As time progressed, Japanese society not only gave thanks to agricultural workers, but also to laborers in general. This led to the custom of recognizing the importance of work during this holiday. On this day, each member of the family thanks the others for the hard work completed over the course of the year.
Emperor Showa passed away on January 7, 1989. The Crown Prince then became the new emperor; therefore, the birthday of Emperor Heisei on December 23 became the new Emperor’s Birthday.
忘年会 (bounenkai) or “Year-End Parties” are banquets held at the end of each year in order to forget the troubles and hard times of the year. These parties are dinners held not with feelings of regret for the past, but with feelings of motivation to start afresh and do one’s best. At year-end parties, it’s important that all participants share the feeling that while many things happened this year, they’ll try to do their best in the New Year. People renew their vitality for work and social circles for the coming New Year.
Also called o-souji, the Year-end Cleaning is a Japanese custom that takes place in December before the New Year. It’s typical for family to come over and help with cleaning tasks, and many people also choose to clean their workspace. Some Japanese clean in order to make their homes “pure” enough for the god Toshigami-sama in preparation for the New Year, and in hope that it will be a year of many blessings.
You may ask why it is advantageous to know Japanese holidays. There are a number of good reasons!
If you’re keen to learn Japanese on your own, there are a number of ways to do this. Why not choose holidays as a theme? You can start by learning about the Japanese culture, so find a video or TV program about holidays in Japan. Better still - find a video or program about holidays in Japanese, and watch it a few times! That way your ear will get used to the spoken language. You could also watch Japanese movies without subtitles, as this too will train your ear to what correct Japanese sounds like.
If you’re more advanced in Japanese, you can practice your writing skills by writing a letter to your Japanese friend about the holidays video. Or write a short review of the video, and post it on social media! Imagine how impressed your friends will be!
Practice your Japanese pronunciation, and record yourself talking about your holiday in Japan. Pronouncing words correctly in any language is very important, or you may find yourself saying things you don’t mean!
If you’re an absolute beginner, it would be best to start with a book, a CD series, free PDF cheat sheets and preferably your Japanese friend who can help you. Or, you can start with JapanesePod101, for free!
Holidays in Japan can also be the perfect opportunity to practice your Japanese! For the best experience, make sure to master at least Level 1 of your Japanese lessons here on JapanesePod101 before you go on holiday to Japan. Then don’t be shy! Use it with every native speaker you encounter in every situation. Practicing continuously to speak a language is one of the most important habits if you want to become fluent. Or, if you’re a new subscriber to JapanesePod101 in a hurry to get to Japan, study Absolute Beginner Japanese for Every Day to help you get by as a traveller - you will be surprised how far a little Japanese can go!
JapanesePod101 is uniquely geared to help you master relevant, everyday vocabulary and phrases, pronounced correctly and in the right context - this will set you on the right track. Our courses are perfectly designed to help you in fun ways!
But do have a holiday first. Ideally you will enjoy a different culture with a visit, and enrich your life in ways you cannot imagine. Don’t wait till 2020 to learn Japanese through JapanesePod101 though - it will open a whole new world for you!
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