25 Unique Japanese Holidays

Japan is a country with a rich and diverse cultural heritage, and this is reflected in the many festivities that take place throughout the year. Some holidays are religious in nature, while others are more secular in nature. The Japanese take pride in their traditions and these holidays serve as an important reminder of their history and values.

From the whimsical to the serious, we’ve put together a list of unique and culturally significant holidays observed in Japan that we think are worth learning more about. Even if you are very knowledgeable about Japanese culture and history, some of these festivities may surprise you. In this list we focus on modern and historical holidays, but not on festivals. Some of these festivities trace their foundation back to the Heian period, while others are more modern additions. When attending festivals in Japan, it’s not uncommon to see attendees dressed in traditional kimono as yukatas.

  • January 1: New Year’s Day (Shogatsu): A day to make wishes for the coming year and eat traditional New Year’s foods.

  • January 5: Steel Phallus Festival (Kanamara Matsuri): A Shinto fertility festival in which a giant steel phallus is carried through the streets of Kawasaki.

  • February 3 – 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 in the old Japanese calendar, and celebrations of the holiday began around the 8th century with the throwing of beans around the 14th century.

  • February 8: Hari-Kuyo Sewing Needle Holiday – This holiday is for those who observe the removal or loss of their sewing needles in the previous year. Sewing needles are critically important tools in cultures around the world, since most clothing was made at home. In Japan, this holiday is observed at many shrines. In Buddhist temples, broken needles are often combined with threads in the five colors most associated with the religion.

  • February 11: National Foundation Day: A day to celebrate Japan’s mythological founding in 660 B.C. This party was instituted in 1966.

  • February 22: Cat Day (Neko no Hi): A day to celebrate cats and their cute and quirky personalities.

  • February 23: Emperor’s Birthday: A day to celebrate Emperor Naruhito’s birthday.

  • March 3: 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 at locations in Detroit, Michigan.

  • March 14: White Day – a day when men give women gifts in exchange for Valentine’s Day chocolates.

  • April 1: April Fool’s Day – a day for pranks and pranks.

  • April 29: Showa Day – A day to commemorate the birthday of Emperor Showa, who ruled Japan from 1926 to 1989.

  • May 3-5: Golden Week: A week-long holiday period in which many Japanese travel and enjoy leisure activities.

  • May 5: Children’s Day (Kodomo no Hi): A day to celebrate children, where koinobori (carp-shaped streamers) are flown. Children often wear traditional kimonos for this celebration and have their photos taken at temples and other special places.

  • May 9: Lost Socks Memorial Day: A day to mourn the loss of socks and remember those that have been lost.

  • June 9: Tango no Sekku – A festival celebrating children, where samurai helmets are displayed at home in small shrines and traditional foods are eaten. Children often dress up in kimono for this holiday.

  • July 7: Tanabata – A festival celebrating the meeting of two lovers, where wishes are written on paper and then tied to bamboo. This holiday is also sometimes called the Star Festival and was founded in AD 755 by Empress Kōken. Sometimes this holiday is celebrated on August 7.

  • August 7: Marine Day – a day to appreciate the ocean and all its bounty. Culturally, Japan has a deep connection to the ocean. From everyday food to folklore, the connection runs deep.

  • August 31: Love for Teeth Day: a day to promote dental hygiene and encourage people to take care of their teeth.

  • September 3: Kimono Day: A day to appreciate the beauty and craftsmanship of traditional Japanese clothing. These holidays are the perfect opportunity to dress up in your favorite kimono and head out. Alternatively, January 9 is the coming-of-age holiday, where young people celebrate coming of age. The coming-of-age celebration is also considered a kimono festival, as many young people dress up in a formal kimono, such as furisode, to celebrate.

  • September 18: Respect for the Aged Day – a day to honor and show respect for older people and their contributions to society.

  • October 10: Health and Sport Day: a day to promote health and fitness, and celebrate sport and physical activity.

  • October 31: Halloween: A day of costumes, candy, and spooky fun. Although this holiday originally comes from Western culture, it has increasingly found a place in Japanese culture. Recent years have seen Halloween parades filled with people dressed as yokai and oni.

  • November 3: Culture Day: A day to celebrate Japanese culture and promote peace and freedom.

  • November 15: Shichi-Go-San – A festival celebrating the growth and well-being of children, where 3- and 5-year-old boys and 3- and 7-year-old girls visit shrines and temples dressed in traditional clothing.

  • December 31: Omisoka: A day to prepare for the new year and eat soba noodles for longevity.

  • How many of these parties did you know? Do you observe any of these festivities? Be sure to keep an eye out for our next list of interesting and historical festivals in Japan.

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