Japan is a country with a rich and diverse cultural heritage, and this is reflected in the numerous holidays celebrated throughout the year. Some holidays are of a religious nature, while others are more secular in nature. The Japanese take great pride in their traditions, and these holidays serve as an important reminder of their history and values.
From the whimsical to serious, we have put together a list of unique and culturally significant holidays that are observed in Japan that we think are worth learning more about. Even if you are very knowledgeable about Japanese culture and history, a few of these holidays might surprise you. In this list we focus on modern and historical holidays, but not festivals. A few of these holidays trace their foundation back to the Heian period, while others are more modern additions. When attending festivals in Japan, it is not uncommon to see attendees dressed in traditional kimono such as yukata.
25 Unique Japanese Holidays
January 1st: New Year's Day (Shogatsu) - a day for making wishes for the upcoming year and eating traditional New Year's foods.
January 5th: Festival of the Steel Phallus (Kanamara Matsuri) - a Shinto fertility festival where a giant steel phallus is carried around the streets of Kawasaki.
February 3rd: Setsubun - a festival celebrating the end of winter, where people throw soybeans to ward off evil spirits. This is the last day of winter before spring on the old Japanese calendar, and celebrations of the holiday began around the 8th century with the bean-throwing aspect beginning around the 14th century.
February 8th: Hari-Kuyo Sewing Needle Holiday - This holiday is for those observing the retirement or loss of their sewing needles in the previous year. Sewing needles are critically important tools in cultures all around the world, as most clothing was made at home. In Japan, this holiday is observed at many shrines. At Buddhist temples, the broken needles are commonly paired with threads in the five colors most associated with the religion.
February 11th: National Foundation Day - a day to celebrate the mythological founding of Japan in 660 BC. This holiday was instituted in 1966.
February 22nd: Cat Day (Neko no Hi) - a day for celebrating cats and their cute and quirky personalities.
March 3rd: Hina Matsuri - a festival celebrating girls, where dolls are displayed and traditional foods are eaten. There are several Hina Matsuri festivals that take place around the world, including in places in Detroit, Michigan.
March 14th: White Day - a day where men give gifts to women in return for Valentine's Day chocolates.
April 1st: April Fool's Day - a day for pranks and jokes.
April 29th: Showa Day - a day to commemorate the birthday of Emperor Showa, who ruled Japan from 1926-1989.
May 3rd-5th: Golden Week - a week-long holiday period where many Japanese people travel and enjoy leisure activities.
May 5th: Children's Day (Kodomo no Hi) - a day to celebrate children, where koinobori (carp-shaped streamers) are flown. Children are often in traditional kimono for this celebration with photos taken of them at temples and other special locations.
May 9th: Lost Sock Memorial Day - a day to mourn the loss of socks and remember the ones that have gone missing.
June 9th: Tango no Sekku - a festival celebrating boys, where samurai helmets are displayed in the home at little shrines and traditional foods are eaten. Children are often dressed in kimono for this holiday.
July 7th: Tanabata - a festival celebrating the meeting of two lovers, where wishes are written on paper and then are tied to bamboo. This holiday is also sometimes called the Star Festival and was founded in 755 ad by Empress Kōken. Sometimes this holiday is celebrated on August 7th.
August 7th: Sea Day (Marine Day) - a day to appreciate the ocean and all its bounty. Culturally Japan has a deep connection to the ocean. From daily food to folklore the connection runs deep.
August 31st: Love Your Teeth Day - a day to promote dental hygiene and encourage people to take care of their teeth.
September 3rd: Kimono Day - a day to appreciate the beauty and craftsmanship of traditional Japanese clothing. This holiday is the perfect chance to dress up in your favorite kimono and go out. Alternatively, Jan 9th is the Coming Of Age Holiday where young people celebrate coming of age. The Coming Of Age celebration is also considered a kimono holiday, as many young people dress in formal kimono such as furisode to celebrate.
September 18th: Respect for the Aged Day - a day to honor and show respect for elderly people and their contributions to society.
October 10th: Health and Sports Day - a day to promote health and fitness, and celebrate sports and physical activity.
October 31st: Halloween - a day for costumes, candy, and spooky fun. Though this holiday originally came from Western culture, it has increasingly found a place in Japanese culture. Recent years have seen Halloween parades full of individuals dressed as yokai and oni.
November 3rd: Culture Day - a day to celebrate Japanese culture and promote peace and freedom.
November 15th: Shichi-Go-San - a festival celebrating the growth and well-being of children, where boys aged 3 and 5, and girls aged 3 and 7, visit shrines and temples dressed in traditional clothes.
December 31st: Omisoka - a day for preparing for the new year and eating soba noodles for longevity.
How many of these holidays did you know of? Do you observe any of these holidays? Be certain to watch for our upcoming list of historical and interesting festivals in Japan.