Holidays in Japan: The Complete Guide

Holidays in Japan: The Complete Guide

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Woman in yutaka looking at leaves
Japan ranks 7th worldwide for most public holidays. Learn about all the official (and a few unofficial) holidays in Japan and how they're celebrated.

There are a wide assortment of public holidays in Japan. In this article, I cover all of Japan’s public holidays. I also give some historical context around public holidays in Japan, travel planning during Japan’s holidays, and some of the best holidays for traveling.

Public Holidays in Japan

Japan’s Public Holiday Law defines its holidays. The law went into effect on July 20th, 1948 as part of Japan’s post-World War II reconstruction. Legislators have revised the law multiple times over the decades. They’ve added new holidays, rename certain holidays, and changed the dates of holidays to maximize the number of three-day weekends.

At 15 public holidays, Japan ranks 7th in the world for most public holidays, tying with Malaysia, Argentina, Lithuania, and Sweden. The most famous string of public holidays is Golden Week. This run at the end of March and beginning of April results in most of the country taking off for over a week.

Holidays Vs. Celebrations and Festivals

In the rest of this article, I focus largely on public holidays in Japan. However, I do mention a few non-official holidays – like Christmas and New Years – because leaving them out seems incomplete. Additionally, many people take personal vacation during these times, making them quasi-unofficial holidays.

“Happy Monday System”: The Law That Made Japan a Three-Day Weekend Paradise

As you go through the list below, you’ll notice that a lot of one-day holidays fall on a Monday. Which makes sense: a Monday holiday gives people a full three consecutive days of rest. But it didn’t always used to be this way!

Up until 1998, a lot of one-day holidays fell on a fixed day. In 1998, Japan passed a major revision to its holiday laws that moved many of these holidays from a fixed date to a designated day and week of the month (e.g., “the third Monday in July”). The framework for this overhaul is the “Happy Monday System” (ハッピーマンデー制度).


Interestingly, not everyone was happy with the Happy Monday System proposal. Some legislatures and pundits argued against it on the grounds that some key holidays would “lose their meaning” if not held on their original dates. All in all, however, the average Japanese citizen doesn’t appear to mind having an abundance of three-day weekends.

Traveling for Holidays in Japan

There are two aspects to traveling and holidays in Japan: planning your trips around Japanese holidays and traveling specifically to enjoy a holiday in Japan.

It’s important to understand what holidays are happening when in Japan. Public holidays – particularly long ones, such as Golden Week – are key times for domestic travel. While only 25% of people in Japan travel internationally, many spend the holidays at popular local tourist spots.

The Holidays in Japan List

New Years (お正月) – January 1st

Holidays in Japan: New Years. Pictured: Otoshidama - envelopes of money for kids
Picture: freeangle / PIXTA(ピクスタ)

New Years (お正月; oshougatsu) was originally celebrated around the same time as Chinese New Year. The holiday was shifted to January 1st when Japan moved to the Gregorian calendar. The holiday is marked by a number of customs, including year-end parties, specific types of food (おせち料理; osechi-ryouri) thought to bring good luck, the giving of small monetary gifts to kids (お年玉; otoshidama) and more.

Read our full guide to this holiday in our write-up: The History and Traditions of New Years Celebrations in Japan.

One of the most beautiful traditions of New Years is Hatsumode (初詣), the first shrine visit of the year. You can read about this practice in-depth in our guide: Hatsumode: Japan’s First Shrine Visit of the New Year.

Days Off: No official public holidays, but many people take off between December 28th and January 4th. Expect heavy domestic travel during this period, especially closer to the end of the first weekend of the New Year.

Coming of Age Day (成人の日) – Second Monday of January

Holidays in Japan: Coming of Age Day
Picture: Benoist / Shutterstock

A young man or woman is officially considered an adult in Japan when they turn 20. This important life event is marked by the Coming of Age ceremony, which was only officially instituted in 1948. Newly minted adults turn out in traditional wear – kimonos for women, hakama for men – and celebrate their official transition from children into taxpayers. I mean, consumers.

See our full write-up: Coming of Age Day: Living Side-by-Side with “Happy Birthday” in Japan

Days Off: The second Monday of January, resulting in a three-day weekend.

National Foundation Day (建国記念の日) – February 11th

Japanese flag
Picture: ホホエミ / PIXTA(ピクスタ)

A national holiday with a controversial past. National Foundation Day is the resurrection of the Meiji-era holiday Kigensetsu. It was originally designed to help unite the disparate feifdoms of Japan into a single national polity. The holiday was resurrected in 1952 after Allied occupying forces left. Today, some on Japan’s right celebrate it with nationalistic fervor; others on Japan’s left oppose it. Most Japanese citizens, however, just view it as a welcome day off work.

See our full write-up: National Foundation Day: Japan’s Forgotten Holiday

Days Off: February 11th

Spring Day (春分の日; shunbun no hi) – March 20th/21st

Spring scene with Japanese flag - holidays in Japan
Picture: 金土日曜 / PIXTA(ピクスタ)

The first day of spring in Japan, as determined by astronomical observation.

Days Off: None.

Golden Week (ゴールデンウイーク) – End of April – Beginning of May

Mt. Fuji and carp streamers
Carp streamers are a common site on Children’s Day, part of Japan’s epic Golden Week series of holidays. (Picture: Anesthesia / PIXTA(ピクスタ))

As discussed, Golden Week is a string of holidays that result in an epic national holiday. It encompasses a number of different holidays, including Showa Day, Constitution Day, Green Day, and Children’s Day.

We wrote about Golden Week at length – particularly about the epic 10-day Golden Week brought on by Emperor Akihito’s abdication in A 10-Day Vacation: Behind Japan’s Epic “Golden Week”.

Days Off: Variable, but encompassing a week for more. For foreign visitors, this may be the worst time to visit Japan. Intra-country travel is heavy, particularly around the first and final days of the holiday. Popular tourist destinations will be packed.

Ocean Day (海の日; umi no hi) – Third Monday in July

A picture of the sea far at Shiogama Minato in Shiogama, Miyagi Prefecture. (Picture: masy / PIXTA(ピクスタ))

A holiday devoted to the ocean? Hey – when you live on an island, it makes sense! Ocean Day is intended to honor the ocean and its critical importance to the people of Japan. The holiday is patterned after the “Ocean Anniversary” (海の記念日; umi no kinenbi), which originally honored the Meiji Emperor’s safe return from his voyage to Tohoku (Northeast region of Japan) in 1876.

Ocean Day officially became a holiday in 1995. It was originally held on July 20th to mark the Meiji Emperor’s safe return from a trip to Tohoku. The holiday was moved to the third Monday in July as part of the Happy Monday System revision described above.

There are various events around the country in recognition of Ocean Day. Of note: Shiogama in Miyagi Prefecture, which holds a fireworks festival before Ocean Day. On Ocean Day itself, it holds a festival in which a mikoshi (portable shrine) sets sail on a boat.

H29 第70回 塩釜みなと祭 神輿海上渡御


Days Off: The third Monday of July, resulting in a three-day weekend.

Mountain Day (山の日) – August 11th

The Nishizawa valley in Yamanashi Prefecture. (Picture: まちゃー / PIXTA(ピクスタ))

Given that 60-70% of Japan is mountain ranges, mountains also play an oversize role in the mythology and daily life of Japanese citizens. To honor that, Mountain Day was created in 2016 through a revision to the national holiday law. The holiday was created after a nearly two decades long campaign that started in Yamanashi Prefecture and slowly spread through the country.

While the original intention was for the holiday to occur right after Ocean Day, legislators eventually decided to move it to August so that it coincided with Obon (see below). The month of August is the eight month of the year; 8 is represented in Japanese kanji as 八, which is seen to resemble a mountain. Since “11” looks like a line of trees, August 11th became the date for the new holiday.

The purpose of Mountain Day is to give citizens a chance to experience the mountains and to express gratitude and thanks for them. Various prefectures and cities hold events, usually centered on a mountain or trail hike.

Note: While usually held on July 11th, the holiday will be honored on July 10th in 2020 to coincide with the opening of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Days Off: July 11th (July 10th in 2020)

Obon (お盆) – July; Appr. August 13th to 16th

The traditional dance of Awa Odori is a staple of the Obon festival season. (Picture: Artem Mishukov / Shutterstock)

Obon is one of those funny “non-holiday holidays.” While not an official public holiday, enough people take off of work for it that it’s reached the status of a quasi-holiday for most people in Japan.

Obon is Japan festival for recognizing and paying respect to one’s departed ancestors. It’s said to be the time when one’s relatives return from the Pure Land of Buddhism to visit the living.

The word “Obon” comes from the celebration’s more formal Buddhist name, Urabone (盂蘭盆会), and comes from a Chinese Buddhist sutra, the Urabonkyou ( 盂蘭盆経 ). The legend of the Urabonkyou says that the Buddhist monk Mokuren, who was said to have supernatural powers, saw his dead mother in the Hungry Ghost Realm (one of the Buddhist hells). He tried to feed her, but everything he offered her burst into flames and turned to ash.

The Buddha told him the only way to save his mother was to feed, shelter, and help others. At the end of his meditation retreat, Mokuren cared for his fellow monks and nuns, and his mother was freed from her suffering.

The Forms of Obon

Obon is a huge nationwide holiday. Celebrations take two different forms. Niibon (新盆), or the first Bon observed after the death of a loved one, occurs in July, primarily from July 13th to July 16th. Kyuubon (旧盆), or the Bon of the old lunar calendar, runs from August 13th to 16th.

Days Off: None, but many people take off to celebrate. This means you can expect extra crowds. However, as one of the hallmark festivals held in Japan, Obon is something that everyone should see at least once in their lifetimes.

Respect for the Aged Day (敬老の日) – Third Monday of September

Holidays in Japan: Respect for the Aged Day
Picture: Ushico / PIXTA(ピクスタ)

Respect for the Aged Day is, as the name says, a day to pay respect to one’s elders. The origins of the day reputedly go back to the time of Prince Shotoku. However, the official national holiday has only been around since 2003. Besides being a day off, many stores have discounts and other programs for seniors.

See our full write-up: What is Respect for the Aged Day?

Days Off: Third Monday of September, resulting in a three-day weekend. In 2020, this holiday will coincide with Autumn Day (below), resulting in a four-day weekend.

Autumn Day ( 秋分の日) – Usually September 22rd or 23rd


The first day of autumn, as determined by solar observation. Established in 1948 as part of Japan’s post-war legal structure.

Days Off: September 22nd or 23rd.

Sports Day (スポーツの日) – Second Monday of October

Woman golfing
Picture: Fast&Slow / PIXTA(ピクスタ)

Previously known as Physical Education Day (体育の日; taiiku no hi), Sports Day is as of the time of this writing a brand-spanking-new holiday: 2020 was its first year of observance. Legislators changed the word “taiiku” to “sports” because “taiiku” had too much of a school feel. The change coincided with major sporting events in the country – namely, 2019’s Rugby World Cup and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Days Off: Second Monday of October, resulting in a three-day weekend.

Culture Day

Kiyomizudera Road in Kyoto with a view of Yasaka.
Kiyomizudera Road in Kyoto. (Picture: まちゃー / PIXTA(ピクスタ))

Originally a celebration of the Meiji Emperor’s Birthday, legislators renamed this holiday to Culture Day in 1946. Culture Day is a celebration and advancement of Japanese culture throughout the world.

Days Off: None.

Labor Day ( 勤労感謝の日) –

Harvest of rice
Picture: Romix / PIXTA(ピクスタ)

Japan’s post-war Constitution established the last official holiday of the year, Labor Day. in 1948. Historically, it has its roots in prayers and celebrations for a bumper harvest (五穀豊穣; gokoku houjou).

Days Off: November 23rd

Christmas Eve – December 24th

Holidays in Japan: Christmas. Illuminations at Ebisu Garden Place.
Illuminations at Ebisu Garden Place, Tokyo, Japan. (Picture: Job Design Photography / PIXTA(ピクスタ) )

Being nowhere close to a Christian nation, Japan has slowly crafted its own take on Christmas. Couples primarily celebrate Christmas Eve through date nights, Christmas cake, and beautiful holiday illuminations.

See our full write-up: Christmas in Japan: An Evolving Tradition

Days Off: None.

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Jay Allen

Jay is a resident of Tokyo where he works as a reporter for Unseen Japan and as a technial writer. A lifelong geek, wordsmith, and language fanatic, he has level N1 certification in the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) and is fervently working on his Kanji Kentei Level 2 certification.

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