List of national holidays
Although the word matsuri is
always translated as 'festival', some festivals and holidays
are more correctly included in the nenchu gyoji or annual
events originally observed by the Imperial court. These
observances are mostly of Chinese or Buddhist origin but as most
Japanese don't really consider their religious significance, they
also don't distinguish them from matsuri. The dates of some holidays,
such as Adult's Day in January, have been moved to a fixed Monday in order to have
guaranteed three-day weekends. The government made some changes
in 2000 in an effort to stimulate the sluggish economy. Some of
the more important days are: New Year's Day, Adult's Day (Seijin no Hi),
Doll Festival (Hina Matsuri) on March 3rd, Golden Week
in May, Bon Festival (Obon) on July 13-15th (August in some
areas) and New Year's Eve. The birthday
of the current emperor is always
a national holiday, as is the birthday of the late Emperor Showa.
Boy in traditional matsuri costume
Koinobori in Wajima, Ishikawa Prefecture
Mother and daughter at Shichi-go-san
The New Year and Obon are the biggest events in the annual calendar. Families are expected
to gather at the family home - no matter how scattered the members
may be - to honour their ancestors. On the night of New Year's
Eve or the next day, they visit their local shrine (in Tokyo,
the number of visitors to Meiji Shrine alone is in the millions).
But there are usually no wild New Year countdown celebrations.
In recent years, Christmas has become a big - at least in the
commercial sense - event. Couples usually try to get together
for a date on Christmas Eve.
At Obon, the souls of the dead are said to return and so people
visit and clean the family grave and light a path to the house.
Although Obon is traditionally in July, most people take their
annual summer 'Obon' vacation in August, making it the busiest
and most expensive holiday season.
Seijin no Hi celebrates people coming of age at 20. On the second Monday of
January (until 2000, it was January 15th), 20-year olds dress
up and visit a shrine or attend a municipal ceremony to honour their
reaching adulthood. It is a good opportunity to see hordes of
young people in their finest traditional dress. Many young men
wear kimono too but the majority tend to go for suits these days.
Recent years have seen the day often marred by rowdy behavior and
a general lack of respect for the formal aspects of the day.
Setsubun on February 3rd or 4th marks the beginning of spring. The word
literally means "the spliting of the seasons". People throw beans
at someone wearing a mask and representing a demon and chant 'Oni wa soto,
fuku wa uchi' or 'Out with the demons, in with good luck!' Often
celebrities visit major shrines to throw out beans and other goodies to large crowds.
The focal point for the Hina Matsuri or Doll Festival is a
display of dolls representing the emperor, empress and their
court in formal dress. Most homes with young girls will have a display,
from simple dolls and cards to elaborate setups costing hundreds of
thousands of yen. Children's Day is actually a celebration
for boys, corresponding to the Doll Festival for girls. Warrior dolls
or mock samurai armor are displyed and koinobori or carp
streamers are flown by families with boys (the carp is
considered a symbol of success). On both days a special meal is
eaten. Children's Day falls during the Golden Week holiday, which
along with New Year and Obon is one of the busiest holiday periods
throughout the country, with millions of Japanese also traveling abroad.
7-5-3 Festival (Shichi-go-san) on November 15th, 7 and 3-year old girls and
5-year old boys (Shichi-go-san is Japanese for the numbers 7,5
and 3) are dressed up in their best kimono - although these days
suits are more common for the boys - and brought to the shrine
to pray for their future. Originally, this ritual was based on
the fact that Japanese believe certain ages to be prone to bad
luck. Children were not considered fully formed until age seven.
This event is also one of several times a year when photo studios
make their biggest profits as parents and grandparents splash out
lots of money for family albums.
The full list of national holidays is as follows:
January 1 - New Year's Day (Ganjitsu)
The second Monday in January - Adult's Day (Seijin-no hi)
February 11 - National Founding Day (Kenkoku Kinen-no hi)
March 20 or 21 - Vernal Equinox (Shunbun-no hi)
April 29 - Showa Day (Showa-no hi)
May 3 - Constitution Memorial Day (Kenpou Kinenbi)
May 4 - Greenery Day (Midori-no hi)
May 5 - Children's Day (Kodomo-no hi)
The third Monday in July - Marine Day (Umi-no hi)
The third Monday in September - Respect-for-the-Aged Day (Keirou-no hi)
September 23 or 24 - Autumnal Equinox (Shuubun-no hi)
The second Monday in October - Health/Sports Day (Taiiku-no hi)
November 3 - Culture Day (Bunka-no hi)
November 23 - Labor Thanksgiving Day (Kinrou Kansha-no hi)
December 23 - Emperor's Birthday (Tennou Tanjoubi)
When a national holiday falls on Sunday, the next Monday becomes