Shukujitsu & Saijitsu: Preserving Culture Through Holidays

Many countries around the world legislated different dates in their respective calendars to be holidays. In Japan, there is a two-fold understanding of what a holiday means. Regardless of their designation, understanding them can be quite important especially for those who are considering living in the country.


Table of Contents

  1. Japan’s History of Public Holidays
  2. When are the Holidays in Japan? 
  3. Different things you can do to enjoy your vacation
  4. Summary

Japan’s History of Public Holidays

Legislative provisions

Before Japan embraced the Gregorian Calendar in 1872 during the Meiji Era, the Japanese celebrated its national holidays and festivals following the Chinese Lunisolar Calendar. The calendar of the Japanese went through several amendments during the Edo period because of new ideas about astronomy which created issues on the calendar’s accuracy.


In 1948, a need for a statute on public holidays in Japan arose and the Public Holiday Law founded and established the first modern public holidays.


In the present, the Japanese have more holidays now compared to decades ago. There are presently sixteen National Holidays in Japan designated by the Japanese government. One reason for them is that they wanted to address the increase in Karoshi deaths, or death from overwork.


Moreover, in Japan, there are three significant longer holidays, namely, the New Year, Golden Week in April/ May, and Obon in August. During these holidays, prices on the market are expected to increase rapidly as most people in the country have time off and transportation needs to be booked beforehand or prior to the travel time.


Furthermore, if a holiday falls on Sunday, it is expected that the following day, Monday, will be the holiday, Japanese called it ‘furikae kyujitsu’ or shift of dates for the day off.


※ National Diet Library, Japan,"Calendar History"

※ Cabinet Office, Government of Japan, "About "national holidays""

Cultural background

The Japanese have two different types of holidays, just like most countries - national holidays which are designated days off and local festivals or holidays where the event is celebrated but they don’t necessarily affect the work day. National holidays in Japan are called shukujitsu which means “to congratulate” or “to celebrate”. Their local festivals are called saijitsu, which means “to deify, enshrine or worship.” A celebration, most often a matsuri or festival, is reminiscent of the past while honoring the ancestors who had brought peace to the land and it is supposed to be a jubilee of gratitude. And an event, like Christmas, where the nation doesn’t have a day off, is called a gyoji.

When are the Holidays in Japan? 

National Holidays in Japan

Japan celebrates 16 national government-recognized holidays in a year and here is the list. 


January 1 - New Year's Day (Ganjitsu)

The second Monday in January - Adult's Day (Seijin-no hi)

February 11 - National Founding Day (Kenkoku Kinen-no hi)

February 23 -  Emperor's Birthday (Tennou Tanjoubi)

March 20 or 21 - Vernal Equinox (Shunbun-no hi)

April 29 - Showa Day (Showa-no hi)

May 3 - Constitution Memorial Day (Kenpou Kinenbi)

May 4 - Greenery Day (Midori-no hi)

May 5 - Children's Day (Kodomo-no hi)

The third Monday in July - Marine Day or Ocean Day (Umi-no hi)

August 11 - Mountain Day (Yama-no hi)

The third Monday in September - Respect-for-the-Aged Day (Keirou-no hi)

September 23 or 24 - Autumnal Equinox (Shuubun-no hi)

The second Monday in October - Health/Sports Day (Taiku-no hi)

November 3 - Culture Day (Bunka-no hi)

November 23 - Labor Thanksgiving Day (Kinrou Kansha-no hi)


There are four holidays in Japan that the dates are tentative since they are to be celebrated on Mondays rather than a specific date:


Holidays with tentative dates

Second Monday in January - Coming of age Day 

Third Monday in July - Marine or Ocean Day

Third Monday in September - Respect of the Aged day

Second Monday in October - Health/Sports day


Important note for 2021

Due to the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics being postponed until summer 2021, the Japanese government has shifted some holidays around to prepare for the international event. 


July 22 (Thursday) - Marine/Ocean Day instead of July 19 (Monday)

July 23 (Friday) - Sports Day instead of October 11

August 8 (Sunday) - Mountain Day instead of August 11 (Wednesday)

August 9 (Monday) - Day off to make up for August 8 being on a Sunday


These dates were moved around to line up with the opening ceremony of the Olympics and the closing ceremony of the Paralympics. It still remains to be seen if the events can be carried out as planned after the effects of COVID-19.

Paid Holidays / Longer Holidays in Japan

The three notable holidays in Japan are the periods where employees/workers are paid from work while on a vacation. People often travel and go back to their hometowns during this period.


New Year’s Holiday -  Officially celebrated during the first three days of January and it is presumed the most important and awaited celebration of the year. Most businesses close from 3 days prior, making the break a minimum of 6 days. Many people will visit shrines and temples to pray for good fortune in the new year during this time.


Golden Week - a celebration with three consecutive national holidays in the beginning of May. Most people are able to take about a week-long vacation away from work. They usually go to beaches, mountains, and back to their hometowns.


Obon - a commemoration scheduled around the middle of August. It is a Buddhist festival period, a time to honor your ancestors by visiting their graves. Many employees take additional days off to try to schedule a longer vacation during this time.

Different things you can do to enjoy your vacation

During the holidays, it is your discretion to join the traditional aspects of the celebration or not. There are a lot of things you can do with your vacation - participate in the events and surely you'll enjoy and appreciate your time celebrating with many people. Many Japanese choose to spend their vacation time spending and sharing memories with family and friends to travel and try many things that are available in the regional parts of Japan. 


During the festivals, it is already a common practice that the Japanese join in the events by visiting temples and shrines, participating in local festivals, dances and such held in the community. Some of these events gather people from around the country. 


And many western events have caught on in Japan, including Christmas, where you can experience Christmas markets and illumination events, to Halloween, to even St. Patrick’s Day where there’s a green-filled parade in Omotesando every year. 


In Japan, celebrations are embroidered in their culture and traditions and they celebrate to commemorate, recognize, and honor their ancestors. Many holidays are eagerly awaited as it brings joy and laughter to people while honoring the people who founded Japan and its culture. Paid holidays or not, Japan still acknowledges and appreciates their practices, and many people participate in these events. Have fun joining them as they honor their different holidays with their loved ones. 


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