Eastern Culture: Japanese Holidays

Guest Post

There are plenty of holidays that the United States and Japan share. Buuuut, there are also plenty of holidays unique to Japan, and that’s what interests me. What are these holidays and why do the Japanese have them?

If you haven’t been able to figure out from all the anime you’ve watch over the past ten years, Japanese culture is workaholic. You know how some Americans work 80 hours a week and never have time for family or friends or anything besides working? Well, the whole Japanese culture is like that. Over there, when you’re in business, you’re in business, and if you’re not… you might be a slacker.

To balance out all the vacation days everyone refuses to take, there are some interesting Japanese holidays that caught my attention while surfing the web recently. Adult Day (also known as “Coming of Age Day”), for example, is one day off the week after New Years in which everyone “turning 20 celebrates their becoming an adult by getting dressed up in fancy kimonos and going to the temple/shrine”.

There is also a Children’s Day (May 5), Respect for the Aged Day (September 15), and the Emperor’s Birthday (December 23). Other official/national holidays can be found here. I learned that the Japanese tend to celebrate “firsts,” like “the first shrine visit, the first sunrise (Hatsu hinode), even the first calligraphy of the New Year (Kakizome)” though I can’t say for sure exactly why. You can learn a lot more here. Also interesting is that the Japanese celebrate the Vernal (Spring) and Autumnal (Fall) equinoxes as national holidays and have those days off from work as well.

There’s an interesting twist to Valentine’s Day in Japan, as well. There, women traditionally give gifts to men, not visa versa as it tends to be here in the States. But, not all is lost for the ladies. On White Day (March 14, one month after Valentine’s Day), men are supposed to reciprocate the gifts given to them earlier. The catch is that the gift the men give should be twice the worth of the gift they received on Valentine’s Day. Sorry, guys!

Over all, Japan Guide and Wikipedia have the most information about national (and other, non-official) holidays that are celebrated in Japan. For instance, Christmas is celebrated, but it’s extremely commercial—more so than over here—and it is not official.

If you’re interested in another, more in depth article about Japanese holidays, or about holidays associated with Buddhism or Shinto, drop me a line and I’ll see what I can do. In the meantime, enjoy Marine Day (the third Monday in July), which is a celebration of all marine life in Japan.