The Japanese calendar is a very generous one when it comes
to public holidays and the 'Happy Mondays' system that was introduced in
2001 has ensured that there are several lovely long weekends in Japan.
What's the 'Happy Monday' system? Well the Japanese are famous for their
long working hours and there is such a thing known as 'Karoshi' - dying from
overwork. Unfortunately, as bizarre as this might sound, it is a reality in
Originally, public holidays on the Japanese calendar had fixed dates which meant that each year they could fall on a different day. The 'Happy Monday' system was set up to ensure that people took time off from work to re-charge their batteries and hopefully increase the quality of life of Japanese citizens. Now, instead of being fixed dates, national holidays most frequently take place on the first, second, third or fourth Monday in the month. The result? Three day weekends and a great chance to chill out.
For a visitor to Japan, knowing a little about the Japanese calendar will help you to plan for any special events that might be taking place during your stay. If there is a national holiday during your Tokyo vacation, there will often be associated festivals, ceremonies and other activities taking place that will show you a more local side of Tokyo and big city life.
It's also important to know when some of the largest celebrations occur as these can really impact on your travel plans. During the busiest holidays, travel costs can double or triple and many Japanese will leave Tokyo to return to their home towns and their families. During these periods, Tokyo can appear to be a ghost town which is nice if you live here, but probably not what you expect to find if you're here on vacation.
The first major holiday of note is Golden Week from April 29 to May 5. There are 4 national holidays during this period and many businesses will close completely during this time. If you're planning on taking the shinkansen on any of these days, make sure you book your seats well in advance as, nearer the time, most trains will be standing room only, if you can buy a ticket at all.
Obon is in August and honors members of the family who have passed away. This is a Buddhist celebration and is not officially marked on the Japanese calendar, however, as with Golden Week, many businesses will be closed and the city will be quieter than normal. It is a time when the spirits of family members come back to visit and Tokyoites will return to their family homes to celebrate together. If you are here during this period, make sure you get a chance to see some 'bon' dancing and go to a 'bon' festival. This is not a time to be sad. It is a time to be happy and remember those who we love.
On the Japanese calendar, New Year is perhaps the most important national holiday period. Traditionally, houses will be cleaned during December in readiness for this event and food will be prepared so that no cooking needs to be done. Everyone should be able to stop their 'normal' routines over this three day period to enjoy and celebrate together the beginning of the new year. In Buddhist culture, the old year is a chance to throw out all the bad things that may have happened and start again with a clean sheet. Not a bad idea if you ask me!
If you would like to know more about the Japanese calendar and what goes on for each event, see my website below for more details. If you're going to be in Tokyo during one of these events it would be a real shame to miss out on the festivities!
About the Author
Japanese Culture and Society Links
Japanese Sports 競技 (スポーツ)
Japanese Food 食品 (しょくひん)
Japanese Pop Culture 文化（ぶんか）
- Hello Kitty Phenomena
- Japanese Anime, Japanese Manga
- Japanese Hair Straightening: All You Ever Wanted to Know
- Creating a Japanese Garden Theme
- Keeping and Handling Japanese Inro
- Misconception about Ninja
- Japanese Bonsai
- Japanese Geisha
- Japanese Wedding
- Why Do Japanese Have Long Lifespan?
- Decorate with Japanese Art
Japanese Literature Links
- Haiku Poetry
- Japanese Alphabet
- Japanese Language
- Japanese Pronunciation
- Learning Japanese Kanji
- Tanka Poems
Japanese Art Links