Japan’s National Holidays: Marine Day

Sunset over Enoshima beach

We’re taking a break for Marine Day – but if you’re interested, here’s a very abridged history of this national holiday’s origins.

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Along with (most of) the rest of Japan, we’re taking a break today for 海の日 (Umi no Hi) – Marine Day, one of the handful of Holiday Mondays scattered around the Japanese calendar to create three-day weekends.

Marine Day as we presently observe it dates from 1995, when the government decreed that from the following year, July 20th would be a national holiday celebrating the country’s relationship with the oceans. It was moved to the third Monday of July in 2003, as part of a set of reforms called the “Happy Monday” reforms, which changed several of the country’s public holidays from their fixed dates to being always held on a Monday. Coming Of Age Day (in January) and Health and Sports Day (in October) moved to being set on Mondays in 2000; Marine Day and Respect For The Aged Day (September) joined them in 2003. The only new public holiday to be instituted since then, Mountain Day (which started last year and is in August), is also fixed on a Monday.

The idea was partially a populist one – people prefer a three-day weekend to an isolated holiday on a Wednesday or a Thursday, after all – but there was also an economic incentive. Three-day weekends promote internal tourism and spending; people are considered to be far more likely to go on trips when they have a few days of holiday joined together.

Although Marine Day was observed as a public holiday for the first time in 1996, July 20th had previously been observed as 海の記念日 (Umi no Kinenbi), Marine Memorial Day. This was instituted in 1941, and commemorated the return to Yokohama Port in 1876 of the Meiji Emperor after a successful tour of north-eastern Japan and inspection of lighthouse facilities aboard a steamboat, the Meijimaru. It seems a rather mundane thing to commemorate, but no doubt had far greater significance amidst the Imperialistic fervour of the mid-1940s. The commemorative day survived post-war reforms; another survivor was the Meijimaru itself, which is still a prominent feature of the Etchujima campus of the Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology, located on Tokyo Bay close to the heart of the planned 2020 Olympics facilities in the area.

For most people, however, Marine Day has simply become the perfect time to take a trip to the beach, and beaches around Tokyo in particular are absolutely swarmed over the holiday weekend.

We’ll be back to posting new articles tomorrow. Try not to get too sunburned if you’re at the beach today.


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