Below is a listing with a brief explanation of the official government holidays which are observed in Japan as well as special observances that are not legal holidays. As in America, don't plan on getting any business accomplished on legal holidays, however stores and shops are usually open. Legal Holidays are marked with an (H).
1 January - Ganjitsu - New Year's Day (H).
New Years in Japan has a much deeper significance the we place on it in America. The New Year's Eve observances are not party-oriented as ours and the time just before midnight is usually quiet and reverent. Most Japanese will visit their local Shrine or Temple at Midnight. Actually, the time leading up to the January First can be more significant than the day itself.
For a more detailed explanation of this major holiday, take a look at the New Year entry from my free E-book "About Japan: Holidays and Special Occasions"
The blossoms of the flowering Cherry tree (Sakura) typically signal the coming of Spring throughout Japan.
Cherry blossom viewing is among the most popular gatherings in the country. People from all walks of life meet in public parks with picnic lunches, beer and sake, and portable Karaoke (kah rah oh ke) machines to celebrate this colorful and significant occasion. Due to the fragile nature of the blossoms, they do not decorate the trees for long. It is only a matter of days after they burst open, that the petals will fall to the ground. The slightest breeze creates a shower of petals similar to show flurries of the recently ended winter. Check out some photos of Cherry Blossoms in the local area.
Note: The period between 29 April and 5 May is known as Golden Week. Schools and most businesses close on the 29th and then from the 3rd through the 5th. With weekends included this makes for a very nice spring break.
Obon is an annual event that is derived from Buddhist belief that one’s deceased ancestors’ spirits return to earth to visit their living descendants from the 13th to the 15th day of the 7th month of the year. For a more detailed explanation, download my free E-book "About Japan: Holidays and Special Occasions"
Third Monday in September - Keiro No Hi - Respect for the Aged Day (H.
Honors Japan’s elderly citizens and shows respect for their longevity.
Between 22 and 24 Sept - Shubun No Hi - Autumn Equinox (H).
The actual date of this observance depends on several factors. This is the second time this year that the night and day are the same length. It is also a time to honor one’s departed ancestors. It also signals the end of summer
2nd Monday in October - Taiiku no Hi - Sports Day (H).
People enthusuastically celebrate good physical and mental health through physical activity on this day.
3 November - Bunka no Hi - Culture Day (H).
The love of freedom and the wish for continued peace as fostered by Japan's current Constitution are celebrated with cultural activities.
15 November - Shichi-Go-San - 7 - 5 - 3 years old.
Shichi - Go - San. The numbers 7, 5 and 3 representing childrens ages. Age 3 and 7 for girls and age 5 for boys are considered special years.
23 November - Kinro Kansha no Hi - Labor Thanksgiving Day (H).
On this day, people traditionally express gratitude to each other for the blessing that their labors have produced and for the fruits of that labor.
23 December - Tenno Tanjobi - Emperor's Birthday (H).
Celebration of the birth of the current Emperor, Akihito.
As you can see, with a couple of exceptions, Japan tends to celebrate the human condition and its special phases as well as its appreciation of nature. Whereas we in America usually celebrate an individual's accomplishments or a special event.
For a more detailed explanation of these holidays along with some nice photos, take a look at my book with also includes 12 other chapters to help folks get along in Japan. "About Japan: Newbie to Knowledgeable"