Holidays and Festivals
The most important holiday period on the calendar is New Year which virtually shuts down the entire country from December 30 to January 3. During this period, the Japanese people head home to their families, eat festive foods and head out to local temples at the stroke of midnight to welcome in the New Year.
Another high profile festival which is featured in many foreign media because of the blaze of colour, is the hanami, the “flower viewing” festival, usually held in March or April. This is when the cherry blossom trees bloom and families head out en masse to enjoy picnics in parks and countryside walks. The exact timing of the fleeting blossoms varies from year to year, but the nation’s media follows the progress nationwide with a fervent passion.
The nation’s longest holiday is “Golden Week” (April 27 to May 6) when the country celebrates four public holidays within one week. This provides the perfect opportunity to take an extended holiday. This is not a good time to travel, as trains and planes are crowded and hotel rates enter a higher price band.
The summer months bring a spate of festivals. One of the most notable is Tanabata, traditionally held on July 7th which commemorates a story of star-crossed lovers who can only meet on this day.
Another prominent summer festival is Obon, which is held in mid-July in Eastern Japan and mid-August in Western Japan, which honours departed ancestral spirits. This is a time when Japanese people head home to visit local graveyards. Like most national holidays, this is not a good time to travel as most forms of transport are packed.
Lunar holidays such as equinoxes may vary by a day or two; the list below is accurate for 2011. Holidays that fall on a weekend may be substituted with a holiday on the following Monday. Bear in mind that most Japanese people take additional time off around New Year; Golden Week; and Obon. The most important festival is New Year’s Day, and many shops and restaurants close for at least two days during this period.
January 1 - New Year's Day
January 2 and 3 - New Year's Bank Holiday
January 10 (Second Monday of month) - Coming-of-Age Day
February 11 - National Foundation Day
March 21 - Vernal Equinox Day
March 22 - Vernal Equinox - Observed
April 29 - Showa Day
May 3 - Constitution Day
May 4 - Greenery Day
May 5 - Children's Day
July 18 (third Monday of month) - Marine Day
September 19 (third Monday of month) - Respect-for-the-Aged Day
September 23 - Autumnal Equinox Day
October 10 (second Monday of month) - Sports Day
November 3 - Culture Day
November 23 - Labour Thanksgiving Day
December 23 - The Emperor's Birthday
December 31 - New Year's 2012 Bank Holiday