The Japanese Calendar & National Holidays

Japan Standard Time

The standard time zone in Japan is Japan Standard Time (JST), which is 9 hours ahead of UTC (UTC+09:00). The 24-hour clock is widely used. Currently, daylight savings time (DST, summer time) is not observed in Japan.

Japanese Year System

The western calendar is widely used in Japan. Dates are usually written in the order of YEAR-MONTH-DAY.

Example: “2015年1月23日” for the 23rd of January, 2015.

However, a unique year system based on the names of Japanese eras, called Gengou (or Nengou) appears in everyday life. Because government offices require you to fill out forms in Gengou in many cases, it is useful to know the calculation.

Showa (1926-1989) (“昭和”, abbr. “S” or “昭”)
subtract 25 from the last two digits of the western calendar
Example: 1980 = Showa 55

Heisei (1989-present) (“平成”, abbr. “H” or “平”)
1989-1999: subtract 88 from the last two digits of the western calendar
Example: 1995 = Heisei 7
2000-present: add 12 to the last two digits of the western calendar
Example: 2012 = Heisei 24

The government’s fiscal year begins on April 1, as does the Japanese school year, and many corporations follow suit. Therefore, you may find that many new employees begin jobs and real estate contracts go into effect on this date.

National Holidays in Japan

In Japan, there are a total of 15 national holidays in a year. Most are based on the Shinto practice of worshipping nature. Recently, “Happy Monday” has become more common which allows people to take a long weekend off (Saturday, Sunday and Monday). If a national holiday falls on a Sunday, the following Monday will also be a holiday.

January 1 New Year’s Day
2nd Monday of January Coming of Age Day
February 11 National Foundation Day
March 21 Spring Equinox Day
April 29 Showa Day
May 3 Constitution Day
May 4 Greenery Day
May 5 Children’s Day
3rd Monday of July Marine Day
3rd Monday of September Respect for the Aged Day
September 23 Autumn Equinox Day
2nd Monday of October Health and Sports Day
November 3 Culture Day
November 23 Labor Thanksgiving Day
December 23 Emperor’s Birthday

January 1: New Year’s Day

Osechi Ryori on New Year's DayGan-jitsu (, New Year's Day) – the biggest holiday of the year, and most people celebrate the very first day of the calendar with their families, preparing and enjoying traditional foods “おせち料理” (osechi ryori), decorated in the special stacked boxes.

2nd Monday of January: Coming of Age Day

Seijin ShikiSeijin no hi (, Coming of Age Day) – a national holiday to celebrate people who turn 20 years old, the age of adulthood in Japan. Ceremonies are held in many municipalities, with many people showing up in elaborate kimono or costumes.

February 11: National Foundation Day

Jinmu TennoKenkoku kinen no hi (, National Foundation Day) – originally New Years Day of the traditional lunar calendar, National Foundation Day was established when Japan switched to the Gregorian calendar in the Meiji Period. According to the Nihon Shoki “Chronicles of Japan,” Japan’s first emperor, Jimmu, ascended the throne on the first day of the year.

March 21: Spring Equinox Day

Sakura on the Spring Equinox DayShumbun no hi (, Spring Equinox Day) – the vernal equinox is the first of two times in the year when night and day are of equal length, and commemorates the end of winter. The week surrounding the equinox is known as higan (, equinox week), during which many people return home to visit their ancestors’ graves and offer incense, flowers, or food.

April 29: Showa Day

Tulips at Showa Kinen ParkShowa no hi (, Showa Day) – originally a holiday honoring the birthday of the Showa Emperor Hirohito, “Showa no hi” is a day for Japanese citizens to reflect on the six decades (1926 to 1989) of his reign. The holiday was known as midori no hi (, Greenery Day) after the emperor’s death up until 2006.

May 3: Constitution Day

日本国憲法Kempo kinembi (, Constitution Day) – a day to commemorate the Constitution of Japan, which was instituted on May 3, 1947. The National Diet Building is open for visitor tours on this day. Many people attend lectures, and reflect on Japan’s progress as a democratic nation or the role of the Constitution.

May 4: Greenery Day

Green DayMidori no hi (, Greenery Day) – a day to be thankful for nature’s blessings, was moved to this date from April 29th. It acts as an extension of “Golden Week,” the longest vacation period of the year for many jobs in Japan due to the number of holidays concentrated around the first week of May.

May 5: Children’s Day

Flying Carps on Children's DayKodomo no hi (, Children's Day), today it is a day to celebrate all children’s health and growth. “Koinobori” kites in the shape of a carp, a lucky fish symbolizing determination and success, are flown above rooftops for each child in their house. Many families also display helmet replicas or samurai dolls in their homes.

3rd Monday of July: Marine Day

Marine DayUmi no hi (, Marine Day) commemorates the blessings of the sea important for an island nation. It was the first public holiday created during the summer months, and falls around the time of the start of students’ summer vacation.

3rd Monday of September: Respect for the Aged Day

Respect for the Aged DayKeiro no hi (, Respect for the Aged Day). Japan has one of the highest life expectancies in the world, and this holiday commemorates Japan’s elderly citizens. The media takes the opportunity to talk about the nation’s population and feature some of the oldest people in the country.

September 23: Autumn Equinox Day

HiganbanaShubun no hi (, Autumn Equinox Day). The autumnal equinox is the second of two times in the year when night and day are of equal length, and commemorates the changing seasons. Like the spring equinox, many people return home to visit their ancestor’s graves during the surrounding week, higan (, equinox week).

2nd Monday of October: Health and Sports Day

Sports DayTaiiku no hi (, Health and Sports Day). This day to enjoy sports and promote exercise was established in commemoration of the opening of the Tokyo Olympics in 1964. Many communities and schools choose this day to hold an undokai (, Sports Day) field day, similar to a miniature Olympics, including ceremonies and athletic events such as relay races.

November 3: Culture Day

Hinoki ButaiBunka no hi (, Culture Day) – a day to promote academic endeavors. Governments hold exhibitions and parades, schools hold festivals, and universities often announce new research and projects on this day. The Imperial Family also holds an award ceremony for the Order of Culture.

November 23: Labor Thanksgiving Day

Thanksgiving DayKinro kansha no hi (, Labor Thanksgiving Day) – a day for respecting labor, celebrating the rights of workers, and extending gratitude for other’s efforts. It overlaps with an ancient Shinto harvest ritual called Niinamesai (), during which the Emperor dedicates the year’s harvest of rice.

December 23: Emperor’s Birthday

Photo_ImperialPalaceTennou tanjoubi (, Emperor's Birthday). Japan’s present emperor, Akihito, was born on this date in 1933, and his birthday has been celebrated since he ascended the throne in 1989. The inner grounds of the Imperial Palace open to the public, and the Imperial family makes a balcony appearance to accept birthday greetings.

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