When traveling to Japan, it is important to note that most Japanese tend to take their vacations between similar dates and it is best to avoid these times. The three major vacation periods are: two or three days before and after New Yearís Day; the week following Greenery Day (April 29), known as Golden Week*; and the week includes August 13-16, the Obon Festival, when many Japanese return to their hometowns.
New Year's Day (Oshogatsu): January 1-3
The most important holiday in Japan. In the Way of Tea, special arrangements are made in preparation for the first tea of the New Year, called Hatsugama. Hatsugama literally means first kettle. Because the
New Year is literally the first of the year, every occurrence is a first. Hatsumode is the first visit to the family temple. There, prayers are offered to the Gods for good things in the coming year.
Coming of Age Day (Seijin no Hi): 2nd Monday of January
The coming of age of age 20 year old men and women is celebrated.
Beginning of Spring (Setsubun): February 3
Setsubun is not a national holiday. This day has been celebrated in many ways, but perhaps the most common custom found throughout Japan is the traditional Mame Maki or the scattering/throwing of beans to chase away the evil oni (ogres or evil spirits).
National Foundation Day (Kenkoku Kinenbi): February 11
The earliest Japanese history records that on this day in the year 660 B.C. the first Japanese emperor was crowned.
Valentine's Day: February 14
In Japan, women give chocolates to men on Valentineís Day. This tradition started as a marketing tool for chocolate companies in Japan.
Doll's Festival (Hina Matsuri): March 3
Also called girl's festival or Peach Festival (Momo-no-Sekku), takes place on March 3. Hinamatsuri (hina means dolls and matsuri means festival) is a time to pray for the well being of young girls. Most homes with young girls will set up a display of hinaningyo (hina dolls). In Japan, peach trees are known to repel evil spirits; symbolizes life force, eternal youth and peace.
White Day: March14
The opposite of Valentineís Day. Men give gifts to women on this day. Itís not a national holiday.
Spring Equinox Day (Shunbun no Hi): March 21
Is a national holiday. The Japanese visits their family graves during the week (ohigan) of the Equinox Day.
Greenery Day (Midori no Hi): April 29
Emperor Showa's birthday. The first holiday during Golden Week. On this day, the Japanese show appreciation for nature.
Constitution Memorial Day (Kenpo Kinenbi): May 3
National holiday remembering the new constitution that was put into effect after the World War II. It is the second holiday during Golden Week.
Between Day (Kokumin no Kyujitsu): May 4
This holiday was recently created as national holiday to make the Golden Week a continuous holiday.
Children's Day (Kodomo no Hi): May 5
Also called boyís festival or Tango no Sekku. On this holiday, the Japanese pray for the healthy growth of children. Historically it was the day to celebrate and pray for the health of boys. Japanese families with boys hang up carp streamers (Koinobori) outside and display May dolls (Gogatsu Ningyo) inside their houses.
Star Festival (Tanabata): July 7
This day is not a national holiday. One popular Tanabata custom is to write one's wishes on a piece of paper, and hang that piece of paper on a specially erected bamboo tree, in the hope that the wishes become true.
Ocean Day (Umi no Hi): 3rd Monday of July
A recently introduced national holiday to celebrate the ocean. The day marks the return of Emperor Meiji from a boat excursion to Hokkaido in 1876.
Obon Festival: July/August 13-15
Obon is a Buddhist festival to commemorate the deceased ancestors. It is believed that each year during obon, the ancestorsí spirits return to this world in order to visit their relatives. Traditionally, lanterns are hang in front of houses to guide the ancestors' spirits, obon dances (bon odori) are performed, graves are visited and food offerings are made at house altars and temples.
Anniversaries of the Dropping of the Atomic Bombs and the End of World War II: August 6, 9 and 15
On August 6, 1945, atomic bomb that took the lives of over 200,000 Hiroshima residents. More than 90% of the city was damaged by the blast; around the epicenter, nearly all of the people died instantly, and most of the buildings were destroyed without a trace. Three days later, at 11:02 a.m. on August 9, 1945, another atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki City which left 120,000 people dead. Today, the epicenters of both the Hiroshima and Nagasaki blasts have been turned into Peace Memorial Parks. Each year on August 6 and 9, respectively, a ceremony is held at each park to remember the victims of the atomic bombs and to pray for eternal peace. World War II ended only days after the bombs were dropped, on August 15, 1945; Japan accepted the Potsdam Declaration by the Allied Powers, thereby surrendering unconditionally. August 15 is now a day for remembering those who died in the war, and ceremonies are held throughout Japan. War not only takes the lives of countless people, but also affects everyone in the countries involved, making them unhappy. Therefore, the anniversary of the end of World War II is also a day for those who experienced the war to tell future generations about their tragic memories, and for everyone to renew the determination never again to repeat such foolishness.
Respect for the Aged Day (Keiro no Hi): 3rd Monday of September
Respect for the elderly and longevity is celebrated on this national holiday.
Autumn Equinox Day (Shubun no Hi): September 23 Family graves are visited during the week (ohigan) of the Equinox Day. It is a national holiday.
Health and Sports Day (Taiku no Hi): 2nd Monday of October
A day of observance for sports and wellness. The Olympic Games of Tokyo were opened on this day in 1964.
Culture Day (Bunka no Hi): November 3
A day for promotion of Japanese culture and the love for freedom and peace. On this day, academic institutions and the government award selected persons for their special cultural activities.
Seven-Five-Three (Shichigosan): November 15 A festival for children. It is not a national holiday. Girls of age three and seven and boys of age three and five are celebrated on Shichigosan. They often visit a Shinto Shrine dressed up in kimono.
Labour Thanksgiving Day (Kinro Kansha no Hi): November 23
A national holiday honoring labour.
Emperor's Birthday (Tenno no Tanjobi): December 23 The birthday of the current emperor is always a national holiday. If the emperor changes, the national holiday usually changes to the birthday date of the new emperor.
Christmas: December 24-25
Christmas is not a national holiday, but it is celebrated by an increasing number of Japanese.
*The end of April through around May 5th is called "Golden Week" in Japan since there are a couple of holidays during this time. Many businesses close for about a week to 10 days depending on the calendar. Many people take a vacation and travel around the country or abroad. Many sightseeing and amusement places are very crowded at this time. Also, airports and train stations in Japan are overflowing with people. It is extremely hard to get reservations or accommodations for transportation around this time.