National holidays

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National civic holidays associated with the modern Japanese nation/state were first established in 1873. While those observed from the Meiji period through 1945 mostly celebrated and reinforced an Emperor-centric history and nationalism, the majority of Japanese national holidays today are less blatantly nationalistic, and include such occasions as Ocean/Marine Day, Greenery Day, Respect for the Aged Day, and Health & Sports Day.

The first two national holidays - the birthday of the reigning emperor, and National Foundation Day celebrating the supposed anniversary of the accession to the throne of Emperor Jimmu, the very first Japanese emperor, in 660 BCE - were established in January 1873. Six more holidays were created in November of that year, and two more in June 1878.

Meiji through Wartime National Holidays

  • Jan 3: Genshisai (元始祭), or "Festival of Origins", commemorated the descent to earth of Ninigi-no-mikoto, grandchild of Amaterasu.
  • Jan 5: Shinnen enkai (新年宴会), or "New Year's Festival."
  • Feb 11: Kigensetsu (紀元節), or "Foundation Day," commemorating the establishment of the Imperial line with the accession to the throne of Emperor Jimmu on Feb 11, 660 BCE, and the anniversary of the promulgation of the Meiji Constitution on Feb 11, 1889.[1]
  • March 20-21 (vernal equinox): Shunki kôreisai (春季皇霊祭), or "Spring Memorial Festival of Imperial Ancestors." Moved in 1917 to April 30.[1]
  • April 3: Jimmu tennôsai (神武天皇祭), or "Emperor Jimmu Festival," marking the anniversary of Jimmu's death.
  • Sept 20-21 (autumnal equinox): Shûki kôreisai (秋季皇霊祭), or "Autumn Memorial Festival of Imperial Ancestors." Moved in 1917 to October 23.[1]
  • Oct 17: Kannamesai (神嘗祭), or "Offering of the First Fruits Festival," in which offerings of the first harvest of the year were made at Ise Shrine and at the kashikodokoro of the Tokyo Imperial Palace. Originally observed on September 17, it was moved to October in 1879; offerings at the Imperial Palace on this day began in 1871, and were previously made only at Ise.[2]
  • Nov 3: Meijisetsu (明治節), "Meiji Festival," established in 1927 in honor of the Meiji Emperor.
  • Nov 23: Niinamesai (新嘗祭), or "Rice Harvest Festival," associated with the regeneration of the emperor's imperial spirit or soul.[2]
  • (Date variable): Tennôsai (天皇祭), a festival dedicated to the previous reigning emperor. Originally honoring Emperor Kômei and celebrated on January 30, this was replaced in 1912 by a July 30 festival in honor of Emperor Meiji, and then in 1926 by a December 25 festival in honor of Emperor Taishô.
  • (Date variable): tenchôsetsu (天長節) the birthday of the reigning emperor. Originally celebrated on November 3 during the reign of the Meiji Emperor, since 1989 this has been celebrated on December 23.

Postwar National Holidays

  • Jan.1 New Years Day
  • Jan.12 Coming-of-Age Day
  • Feb.11 National Foundation Day - though abolished in 1945, the holiday was re-established in 1966. February 11 also happens to be the anniversary of Gen. MacArthur's approval of the postwar draft Constitution.
  • Mar.21 Vernal Equinox
  • Apr.29 Showa Day - the birthday of the Shôwa Emperor, also known as Hirohito, known as Greenery Day until 2005.
  • May.3 Constitution Day - anniversary of the 1947 promulgation of the postwar Constitution.
  • May.4 Greenery Day
  • May.5 Children's Day (kodomo no hi) - a traditional festival, adopted as a civic/official national holiday
  • Jul.20 Marine Day (Umi no hi)
  • Sept.21 Respected-for-the-Aged Day (Keirô no hi)
  • Sept.23 Autumnal Equinox
  • Oct.12 Health & Sports Day (Taiku no hi)
  • Nov.3 Culture Day (Bunka no hi)
  • Nov.23 Labor Thanksgiving Day
  • Dec.23 Emperor's Birthday


  • "Useful tips for traveling in Japan," Japan Rail Pass official website, Japan Rail (JR). Accessed 13 March 2015.
  • Takashi Fujitani, Splendid Monarchy, University of California Press (1998), 12-13.
  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Fujitani, 16.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Of thirteen rites regularly performed by the emperor himself, the kannamesai and niinamesai were the only two which had historical precedents prior to the Meiji period.