The Guide The Relevent The Useful
where you are:SSG Home/the guide/holidays & festivals: holidays
Holidays and Festivals
holidays | festivals
The following is a list of some of the myriad of holidays celebrated throughout Japan each year. Those marked with an (*) are national holidays (i.e. you get the day off!).
* Ganjitsu: January 1 (New Year's Day) Families all over Japan gather from far and wide to ring in the new year. They celebrate by praying, making "good-luck" decorations, making mochi and by eating lots of "new year's food."

The festivities include:

  • Joya no Kane: As the year turns at midnight, 108 peals can be heard from temple bells across the nation. Each bell is rung 108 times to release people from the 108 forms of evil that exist.
  • Kadomatsu: A decoration consisting of a pair of pine trees and bamboo stems that symbolize longevity, prosperity, and purity. It is placed at the front entrance of the house.
  • Shimekazari: A decoration made of twisted straw rope with fern leaves, and orange, and other items of good omen. It is placed above the door of the front entrance of the house, shrines and temples.
  • Hatsumode: The first visit of the New Year to a shrine or temple. People pray for happiness throughout the year and a long life.
  • Nengajo: New Year's greeting post cards for wishing friends, business acquaintances, and customers a "Happy New Year." If someone sends you a card, be sure to return the gesture.
  • Otoshidama: A (large) gift of money, traditionally given by parents, grandparents, relatives and family acquaintances.
  • Shinnenkai: A party to celebrate the new year, usually held in the first week of January by co-workers and acquaintances.
* Seijin No Hi: January 15 (Adult's Day)Young adults who have turned 20 within the past year are given official recognition in a ceremony held on this day. The new adults are encouraged to live an independent life. Young women who receive a kimono for their 20th birthday can finally show it off at this ceremony.

Setsubun: February 3The eve of the first day of spring in the lunar calendar is marked by a bean throwing ceremony where people cry out: "Out with the devils, in with good luck!"

* Kenkokukinen No Hi: February 11 (National Foundation Day) According to Japanese mythology, this is the day the first emperor, Emperor Jinmu, established the land of the rising sun.

Hina Matsuri: March 3 (Girl's Day)Also known as the Doll Festival. Dolls of the emperor and the empress and members of their noble court wearing Heian era costumes are displayed in homes to celebrate girl's health.

Shunbun No Hi: March 20 or 21 (Vernal Equinox) Buddhist temples hold special services during which people pay their respects to the graves of their ancestors.

Hanami: Early to mid April (Cherry Blossom Viewing)Cherry blossom viewing is the thing to do in April. The shores of Lake Biwa are lined cherry trees in many locations and should not be missed! People picnic and party beneath the blossoms.
Golden Week April 29 to May 5A myriad of holidays can be celebrated during this time when millions of holiday makers travel throughout Japan and abroad. These holidays include:
* Midori No Hi: April 29 (Green Day)This day, now devoted to environmental consciousness, was originally known as Emperor Hirohito's birthday. When the emperor died, Japan changed the name of this holiday.

* Kenpo Kinenbi: May 3 (Constitution Day) This holiday marks the establishment of the present Constitution, which became official following World War II.

* Kokumin No Kyujitsu: May 4 (People's Holiday) A day for all citizens to relax.

* Kodomo No Hi: May 5 (Children's Day)Although it is called Children's Day, in actuality it celebrates the health of all boys, and could more appropriately be called Boy's Day. Warrior dolls and miniature suits of armor are displayed in homes. Outside of all boys' homes, koinobori, paper or cloth streamers in the shape of a carp, are hoisted on a pole. The carp streamers represent the wish that boys be as courageous and strong as the carp.

Tango no Sekku, or the Iris Festival, is also celebrated on this day. Children take a bath with floating iris leaves. The iris leaves symbolize strength.

Tanabata: July 7Legend says that there is a prince, who is a herdsman, and a princess, who is the weaver of the milky way, and they are allowed to meet only once a year on July 7. On this day, children make bamboo decorations and tie on wishes and thread to help them celebrate the celestial reunion.

* Umi No Hi: July 20 (Marine Day) A recent addition to the holiday schedule, this holiday celebrates the glory of the sea.

Obon: August13-15 (Festival for the Dead)The spirits of the dead are believed to visit their families at this time. People make bonfires to lead the spirits to their homes. They also visit their ancestors' graves to comfort the spirits. Most Japanese will return to their childhood home during Obon days. There are bon odori dances held across the country to welcome and console departed souls.

Tsukimi: September (Moon Viewing) The night of the full moon in autumn is the most popular time to pay homage to the moon. Offerings of pampas grass, rice dumplings, fruit and vegetables placed on stands are made to the moon.

Momijigari: september/October (Autumn Leaf Viewing)When the maple leaves change color in fall, the tourist flock to the hills. The most popular and beautiful viewing area in Shiga is Eigenji Temple, where the Japanese Maple trees turn a glorious red.

Shishi No Tanjobi: September 13 (My Birthday)A day to consume large quantities of alcohol and reflect on the successes and failures of Anthony Cece during the past year. Though rigorously celebrated by yours truly, this holiday is still in the petition process to become a nationally recognized holiday.

* Keiro No Hi: September 15 (Respect for the Aged Day) A day to pay respect to our elders by wishing them longevity and thanks for their contributions to society.

* Shubun No Hi: September 23 (Autumnal Equinox) Like the Vernal Equinox, Buddhist temples hold special services and families visit their ancestors' graves.

Taiiku No Hi: October 10 A day to promote health and physical fitness. This holiday was established in commemoration of the Tokyo Olympics of 1962.

* Bunka No Hi: November 3 (Culture Day) A day to reflect on the importance of science and culture.

Shichi-go-san: November 15 (7-5-3 Festival)Girls of seven, boys of five, and children of three dressed in their finest kimono are brought to Shinto shrines to pray for their good health and ask for future blessings. This is an excellent photo opportunity!

* Kinrokansha No Hi: November 23 (Labor Day) The nation honors laborers with a day off. This day promotes respect for labor, and rejoices over its bountiful production.

Bonenkai: December (Forget the Year Party)Usually one of the years best parties! Colleagues gather to forget the unpleasant memories of the passing year, and to prepare for the year to come.

* Tenno Tanjobi: December 23 (Emperor's Birthday)This is the current emperor's (Akihito) birthday, and a rare opportunity for the public to enter the Imperial Palace grounds. It is customary for the Imperial family to appear on the balcony of the Imperial Palace and exchange greetings with the public.

Omisoka: December 31 (New Year's Eve) Everybody eats a bowl of toshikoshi soba (hot buckwheat noodles) as the word "soba" is a homonym of "being close," and this is as close as you can get to the approaching new year.

religion festivals