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Traditions: Holidays

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お正月 A Japanese Tradition

お正月 A Japanese Tradition

Gearing up for 新年 (しんねん・shinnen・the new year) with glitter and firecrackers seems like a common practice not only in the US but also in Japan today. お正月(おしょうがつ・oshougatsu・new year's/January 1st) is still the largest holiday celebrated in Japan during this time of year, and though much of the tradition is still kept, this may be your chance to impress your Japanese friends of your knowledge about お正月.

お正月 A Japanese Tradition


  • しめ縄(しめなわ・shimenawa - literally translates to "tight rope" left photo) is probably the most common お正月 decoration. It is made of thick braided ropes and hung outside the front door of a house by the 29th of December. It's bad luck to hang a しめ縄 past the 29th through the 31st and must be taken off by the 8th of January. According to Shintoism, しめ縄 decoration represents the purification of the house.
  • 門松(かどまつ・kadomatsu) is a decoration primarily made of bamboo and pine. These decorations are placed outside the home, typically around the same time as the しめ縄. They are quite large in size, and are thus uncommon in typical households. Most businesses fashion smaller versions of 門松 and every so often one may see an even smaller version outside some households.

For the kids
お正月 is a holiday you really look forward especially if you are a Japanese child.

  • お年玉(おとしだま・otoshidama), is the tradition where the adults in the family give money to the children. It's like a bonus, if you want to think of allowances as a kid's salary. Needless to say, this is the most exciting part of お正月 for many kids.
  • 獅子舞(ししまい・shishimai): While the 新年 marks the coming of a new year and people wish for good things to come. At this time families wish for their children's health and well-being. The 獅子舞 is similar to the lion dances commonly seen during Chinese New Years. Having your child's head "bitten" by the lion, it is told, ensures the child's well-being in the coming year.
お正月 A Japanese Tradition Children playing traditional Japanese games sung in the song お正月 (left) and some typical envelopes that お年玉 come in (right).

There's a short, yet famous song called お正月 about a child's excitement for お正月. It talks about playing with 凧 (たこ・tako・kite), 駒 (こま・koma・spinning tops), 鞠 (まり・marii・embroidere balls), and おいばね (oibane・a badminton like ball you hit with a racquet called "hagoita") ? all of which are traditional games children played in the past. 


Kanji Hiragana Romaji English
あけましておめでとうございます あけましておめでとうございます akemashite omedetou gozaimasu Happy New Years!
新年 しんねん shinnen the new year
お正月 おしょうがつ oshougatsu new year's/January 1st

文化の日 Culture Day

文化の日 Culture Day

November 3rd is 文化の日 (ぶんかのひ・bunka no hi・literally, "day of culture") - a national holiday dedicated to Ja-panese culture. More specifically, it is noted on the Japanese constitution as the day to love 自由 (じゆう・jiyuu・freedom), 平和 (へいわ・heiwa・peace), and to advance 文化 (ぶんか・bunka・culture).

文化の日 Culture Day Tokyo Jidai (era) Matsuri held yearly on 文化の日 since 1988 - A parade representing paintings on scrolls walk around Asakusa.

The proclamation of the Japanese Constitution, or 日本国憲法 (にほんこくけんぽう・nihonkoku kenpou・Constitution of Japan) was on November 3rd 1946. 

The day was made a 祝日 (しゅくじつ・shukujitsu・national holiday) in 1948. There is however, no formal indication that 文化の日 was purposefully matched to the date of the proclamation of 日本国憲法.

Every 文化の日, there is a ceremony where the Japanese Emperor confers the Order of Culture in the Imperial residence.  Many cities and local governments/organizations in Japan will hold 文化 festivals with traditional gear, dances, songs, etc.

Some museums will have free admission on this day, or will put up special exhibits around this time of year. Those in Japan during this time of year should check these out. If you like Japanese sports, November 3rd is also the day that the National Kendo Competition is held in the famous Nippon Budoukan arena - nationally televised by NHK.

November 3rd is also...
Many have dubbed 文化の日 as pseudo-holidays and specials days.
For example, 文化の日 is also レコードの日 (れこーどのひ・reko-do no hi・day of records), according to the Recording Industry Association of Japan that coined the holiday in 1957 to make the statement that records (music) are an integral part of culture. 

Similarly, in 2002, big-name manga publishers in Japan dubbed November 3rd as マンガの日 (まんがのひ・manga no hi・day of manga) in hopes of raising the notion of manga as an integral part of Japanese culture. 

And, of course, there are holidays that seem a bit unrelated, such as 文具の日 (ぶんぐのひ・bungu no hi・day of office supplies) - reasoning being that from a historical standpoint, 文具 and 文化 have the same meaning - you be the judge of whether that makes sense or not.

文化の日 Culture Day National Kendo Competition held in Nippon Budoukan on 文化の日


Kanji Hiragana Romaji English
文化の日 ぶんかのひ bunka no hi day of culture
~の日 (~のひ ~no hi day of ~
祝日 しゅくじつ shukujitsu national holiday
日本国憲法 にほんこくけんぽう nihonkoku kenpou Constitution of Japan

春分の日 Spring Holiday

春分の日 Spring Holiday

The holiday season are well over, Valentine's Day has passed, there isn't much more to look forward to for a while in the US unless you have spring break. But in Japan, there's a 祝日( しゅくじつ・shukujitsu・public holidays) to look forward to, 春分の日( しゅんぶんのひ・shunbunnohi). 

春分の日 Spring Holiday Japan's 祝日 are all written in to the nation's constitution

Literally, it's the "spring portion day", kind of a holiday to celebrate the coming of Spring. In the Japanese law, it's described as a day to appreciate nature and organisms. 

It's also commonly referred to as the day in the year when the time of daylight equals to that of the nighttime. But in reality, this isn't quite true. 

In terms of the actual day, it's usually around March 20th or 21st. This year, it's on March 20th, a Wednesday. There isn't a traditional way to celebrate 春分の日. Some people use it as a day to visit their ancestral/family grave. 

As you may have wondered, there's also an autumn counterpart to this holiday, 秋分の日( しゅうぶんのひ・shuubun no hi). It's in September (this year, September 23rd) and otherwise treated similarly to 春分の日.

About Japanese 祝日
There are 15 祝日 in Japan this year. They're all indicated under the Public Holiday Law of 1948. The law also states that in any given year, if these 祝日 fall on a Sunday, the 祝日 is to be moved to the following Monday. When this happens, the Monday holiday is called a called 振替休日 ( ふりかえきゅうじつ・furikae kyuujitsu・transfer holiday). 

Also the law mandates that if two 祝日sandwich a normal day, the day in the middle also becomes a holiday. This bonus holiday is called 国民の休日 ( こくみんのきゅうじつ・kokumin no kyuujitsu・citizen's holiday).

春分の日 Spring Holiday People often say that 春分の日and 秋分の日 are the days when the day and night are equally split. In reality, this isn't true. 


Kanji Hiragana Romaji English
祝日 しゅくじつ shukujitsu public holidays
振替休日 ふりかえきゅうじつ furikae kyuujitsu transfer holiday
国民の休日 こくみんのきゅうじつ kokumin no kyuujitsu citizen's holiday

ゴールデンウィーク Golden Week

Golden week (ゴールデンウィーク)is a term for the period at the end of April to the start of May that encompass four public holidays, or 祝日 (しゅくじつ)that were indicated in the Public Holiday Law of 1948. The four holidays included in Golden Week include:

29 April – 昭和の日 (しょうわのひ・Shōwa Day)
The origin of 昭和の日 is relatively recent in comparison to the other official public holidays in Golden Week. April 29th was originally 天皇誕生日(てんのうたんじょうび・The Emperor’s Birthday)during the Showa era from 1926-1989. When the Showa era (昭和時代・しょうわじだい) ended in 1989 and the Heisei (平成・へいせい) period began, 昭和の日 was changed to Greenery Day, or みどりの日.

In 2007, the holiday was renamed again to昭和の日to honor the birthday of the Shōwa Emperor and to encourage reflection of the Showa era.

3 May – 憲法記念日 (けんぽうきねんび・Constitution Memorial Day)
憲法記念日, or the Constitution Memorial Day commemorates the Constitution of Japan coming into effect on May 3rd, 1947.

4 May –みどりの日 (みどりのひ・Greenery Day)
みどりの日originally came into effect in 1989 at the end of the Showa era on April 29th – what used to be The Emperor’s Birthday. May 4th used to be a Citizen’s Holiday or a国民の休日 (こくみんのきゅうじつ) due to a law that stated that if a normal day is between two祝日that day also becomes a holiday. When April 29th was renamed to Shōwa Day in 2007, May 4th was changed to みどりの日.

5 May –こどもの日 (こどもの日・Children’s Day)
こどもの日 is a day that celebrates children and their happiness.

Depending on the year, if any of the holidays fall on a Sunday, a Compensation or Transfer Holiday (振替休日・ふりかえきゅうじつ) is held on April 30th or May 6th. Golden Week is a popular time for people to travel or take vacations, and some companies will close or give time off during this time.


Kanji Hiragana Romaji English
- ゴールデンウィーク Gooruden Wiiku Golden Week
祝日 しゅくじつ Shukujitsu Public Holiday
昭和の日 しょうわのひ Showa no Hi Showa Day
天皇誕生日 てんのうたんじょうび Tennou Tanjoubi The Emperor’s Birthday
昭和時代 しょうわじだい Showa Jidai Showa Era
平成 へいせい Heisei Heisei Period
憲法記念日 けんぽうきねんび Kenpou Kinenbi Constitution Memorial Day
みどりの日 みどりのひ Midori no Hi Greenery Day
国民の休日 こくみんのきゅうじつ Kokumin no Kyuujitsu Citizen’s Holiday
こどもの日 こどものひ Kodomo no Hi Children’s Day
振替休日 ふりかえきゅうじつ Furikae Kyuujitsu Transfer Holiday

Other 祝日

Japan has 15祝日 (しゅくじつ・Public Holidays) throughout the course of a year. However, some 祝日have less practiced traditions but are still important to Japanese culture, and so they’ll be covered here.

成人の日(せいじんのひ・Coming of Age Day)is a national holiday held on the second Monday of January (Previously 1/15) that celebrates the people who have reached the age of 20. In Japan, the age of 20 is a milestone similar to the ages of 18 and 21 in the US, where once reaching that age, one’s rights and responsibilities as a citizen greatly increase. At age 20, Japanese citizens gain the responsibility of being allowed to drive and vote in elections, as well as the liberties to drink and smoke (if they choose to).

On成人の日, there are 成人式(せいじんしき・Seijinshiki)or “Coming of Age Ceremonies” that consist of those participating to dress up in traditional clothing and visit a local city office. Recently, the number of people who participate in成人の日 have been declining.

建国記念の日(けんこくきねんのひ・Foundation Day)is a national holiday held annually on February 11th. This holiday exists to celebrate Japan’s foundation and to express patriotism. Initially a more Shinto oriented tradition that heavily focused on the Japanese Emperor; today, 建国記念の日 does not have particularly grand or public celebrations and is a rather quiet祝日.

海の日(うみのひ・Marine Day)is a national holiday held annually during the month of July as respect to the oceans surrounding Japan and the nation’s reliance on them. Initially, 海の日 was held on July 20th, but was changed in 2003 to be held on the third Monday of July. 海の日 has a lot of ocean related events, and due to the time of the holiday being in the middle of July, is a popular time to take trips.

山の日(やまのひ・Mountain Day)is the newest Japanese祝日with the purpose of celebrating and learning about the mountains, which are a prominent geological feature of the nation. 山の日 is celebrated on August 11th to overlap with the vacation time during the お盆(おぼん・Bon Festival).

敬老の日(けいろうのひ・Respect for the Elders Day)is a national holiday previously held on September 15, but was changed to now be held on the third Monday of September. Japan is a nation that highly regards the elderly, and respect to one’s superiors and elders is something that is highly valued in Japanese culture. As a result, 敬老の日 exists to honor and feature the lives and accomplishments of the elderly.

勤労感謝の日(きんろうかんしゃのひ・Labor Thanksgiving)is held annually on November 23rd for the purpose of giving thanks and respecting labor. It used to be an autumn harvest festival, but was changed to be more related towards celebrating human and worker’s rights.


Kanji Hiragana Romaji English
祝日 しゅくじつ Shukujitsu Public Holiday
成人の日 せいじんのひ Seijin no Hi Coming of Age Day
成人式 せいじんしき Seijinshiki Coming of Age Ceremony
建国記念の日 けんこくきねんのひ Kenkoku Kinen no Hi Foundation Day
海の日 うみのひ Umi no Hi Marine Day
お盆 おぼん Obon Bon Festival
山の日 やまのひ Yama no Hi Mountain Day
敬老の日 けいろうのひ Keirou no Hi Respect for Elders Day
勤労感謝の日 きんろうかんしゃのひ Kinrou Kansha no Hi Labor Thanksgiving
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