Comparing National Holidays in Japan and Germany
For employees at both Japanese companies in Germany, and German companies with Japanese business ties, it could prove useful to have an understanding of both countries’ work and holiday calendars. In this article, we will go through the public holidays in Japan and Germany, as well as mention some other annual events, and how these may affect you.
Table of Contents
Public holidays in Japan
Japan is known for its hard-working ethics, yet, when compared internationally, the annual number of hours worked by the Japanese is not very high.
BBC: Who works the longest hours?
The reason why the number of hours worked annually is not notably high is due to the relatively many different public holidays in Japan. The particularly important public holidays are the ones that fall during what is known as Golden Week, as well as New Year’s.
During Golden Week, a total of four different national holidays are jammed into one week – making it an ideal timing for employees to take some vacation days. Golden Week starts on the 29th of April with Showa Day, followed by Constitution Day (3rd), Greenery Day (4th), and ending with Children’s Day (5th). Since these national holidays lead to plenty of possible time off, the manufacturing industry and factories frequently make long holidays out of the week; often ranging from the 29th of April to the 8th of May.
Similarly, many businesses try to create longer holidays before, during, and after New Year’s Day.
Importantly, and differing greatly from Europe, Christmas is not a holiday in Japan. Still, Japanese companies often make employees take holidays around New Year’s Day. How long these holidays last, and when they start, really depends on the company in question. Usually, the beginning of the winter holidays is close to the end of the year, starting from the 29th or 30th of December. Many employees at Japanese companies are then subsequently off for (at least) the first 3 days of January. While only the 1st of January is a designated national holiday, many businesses remain closed through to the 3d of January.
Depending on one’s social context, and whether the employee in question has family to spend time with, certain national holidays are of more or less importance to the Japanese. Such a public holiday that could be important to some, is the Coming of Age Day (seijin no hi). During this holiday, everyone who is turning 20 is celebrated. This occurs annually on the second Monday of January.
As we have explored earlier, Japan has plenty of national holidays, and a reason why this is the case is since Japan has shown some flexibility regarding its public holidays. This can be seen in the fact that they in Japan enjoy something called bank holiday substitute days. These substitute days mean that if a national holiday were to fall on a Sunday (as the Japanese business week ranges from Monday to Friday), the bank holiday would follow on the subsequent weekday.
The adaptability of Japan when it comes to holidays is also shown in that Japan isn’t shy to introduce new public holidays. Some of these newer additions are in fact quite recent; National Mountain Day (yama no hi) was, for example, introduced as late as 2016. Furthermore, the Emperor’s Birthday marks a national holiday in Japan; so for each new emperor, there is obviously a new date to celebrate, leading to the previous emperor’s birthday turning back into a weekday. Thus, former emperor Akihito’s birthday, the 23d of December, is now, much like Christmas day, an ordinary weekday in Japan.
In addition to national holidays, Japan holds plenty of annual events of importance (although such events do not mean automatic time off, some people may take vacation days as necessary) much like Germany. Who these events are for, and who may celebrate them, differs on a case-by-case basis. A famous example being the Star Festival (Tanabata), celebrated on the 7th of the 7th month of the year. Another festival worth mentioning is the Obon festival. Obon is all about commemorating deceased ancestors and occurs from the 13th to the 15th of the seventh lunar month. In 2022, this means from August 13 to 15.
Lastly, one can mention the varied and many local annual festivals, some seasonal as well as regional. In other words – there is always something of importance to somebody going on in Japan. Yet, a lot of businesses are open during national holidays; especially shops, restaurants, and tourist attractions (but not during New Year’s Day).
Just like in Japan, Sundays and public holidays are considered a day of rest in Germany (but for more companies than in Japan). Yet in Germany, there aren’t nearly as many public holidays, and some of the ones that do exist are regional, meaning they are only celebrated in certain parts of the country. An example of a regional holiday being the Feast of Corpus Christi (Fronleichnam), which is celebrated in Baden-Wuerttemberg, Bavaria, Hesse, North Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate, and Saarland.
A lot of the national and regional holidays are tied to religion, and are thus very traditional; leading to some customs to be vary of and/or taken into consideration; for example that Ascension Day (Heilige Drei Könige) and the Feast of Corpus Christi always fall on Thursdays, enabling a four day holiday if one can take an extra day off.
The perhaps most important national holiday in Germany is probably Christmas Day. Even the 24th of December, Christmas Eve, is becoming somewhat of a holiday, with businesses closing early in the day.
Besides having both national and regional holidays, some days (public holidays or not) are considered to be Stille Tage; quiet days or (in some cases) “silent public holidays”; meaning that music and such is prohibited during certain hours, although the rules regarding this have been relaxed somewhat.
Examples of silent public holidays are Good Friday, All Saints Day, and Prayer and Repentance Day (a regional public holiday in Saxony). A de facto public holiday that is also a quiet day is the National Day of Mourning (Volkstrauertag). A day that this year falls on the 13th of November. It should be noted, however, that in some cases this “quiet day status” is limited to a time frame, and most of the holidays this encompasses are fun events, such as Christmas Day – which is a two-third quiet day.
Germany is also known to house many famous festivals and other annual events – although these, as in the case of Japan, do not automatically mean time off. Famous examples are Oktoberfest in Munich and Karneval (or Mardi Gras) in Cologne.
German and Japanese national holidays
Even though Germany has a lot of the same Christian holidays as many other countries – one cannot fail to notice that Japan has many more public holidays. We have compiled a list of the national holidays of both countries, sorted by month(2022).
|January||1st: New Year (shogatsu)
10th (the second Monday of January):
Coming of Age Day (seijin no hi)
|1st: New Year’s Day (Neujahrstag)|
|February||11th: National Foundation Day
23rd: The Emperor’s Birthday
(tenno no tanjobi)
(Around March 20 annually):
Spring Equinox Day (shunbun no hi)
|April||29th: (national holiday)
Showa Day (Showa no hi)
the start of Golden Week
|15th: Good Friday (Karfreitag)
18th: Easter Monday (Ostermontag)
|May||3rd: Constitution Day (kenpo kinenbi)
4th: Greenery Day (midori no hi)
5th: Children’s Day (kodomo no hi)
the end of Golden Week
|1st: Labor Day (Maifeiertag)
26rd: Ascension Day (Christi Himmelfahrt)
|June||6th: Whit Monday (Pfingstmontag)|
|July||18th: (third Monday of July):
Marine Day (umi no hi)
|August||1st: National Mountain Day (yama no hi)|
|September||19th : (Third Monday of September):
Respect for the Aged Day (keiro no hi)
23rd: Autumn Equinox Day (shubun no hi)
|October||10th : (Second Monday of October):
Sports Day (taiiku no hi)
|3rd: Day of German Unity (Tag der Deutschen Einheit)|
|November||3rd: Culture Day (bunka no hi)
23rd: Labor Thanksgiving Day
(kinro kansha no hi)
|December||25th: Christmas Day
26th: Second Christmas Day (2. Weihnachtstag)
How would it affect you?
Since Japan boasts having plenty of public holidays, as well as substitute Mondays when the holiday falls on a weekend, Japanese companies tend to be busy leading up to events such as Golden Week and New Year’s, both of which could mean a full week’s vacation for employees. The importance of New Year’s in Japan leads to December being a busy month for most companies – something that is obviously also mirrored in Germany (but the importance lies on Christmas Day on top of New Year’s). You have to be able to accept some delays during these hectic times, as well as keep your own limited working schedule in mind.
Furthermore, since Monday is a substitute bank holiday, some industries are off during a lot of Mondays in Japan, while in Germany, holidays do not transfer to weekdays.
Japanese colleagues and business partners in Germany may wish to take time off around and during Obon and perhaps in December and/or January, since these are times to spend with family. Meanwhile, in Germany, employees may wish to take time off during Christmas Eve all the way through to the new year (most of these days are not holidays in Germany, but some employers may make their employees take holidays then).
Just like in Japan, Sundays and public holidays are considered a day of rest in Germany, yet this actually applies to more companies than in Japan. These days (Sundays and some of the national holidays) are quite literally quiet days. Thus, in both countries, some businesses are completely closed at these times.
Lastly, one can claim that Japan is more flexible with their national public holidays; these can change dates, such as in the case of the Emperor’s Birthday, and how Showa’s Greenery Day (which was celebrated on the 29th) moved to May 4th in 2006, while his birthday stayed as “Showa Day” – the starting point of the Golden Week.
A new national holiday in Japan is the National Mountain Day, or, Yama no hi – officially announced in 2014, and first observed in 2016. Germany, on the other hand, is more traditional in its approach to national holidays – however, the Day of German Unity, the 3d of October, can be considered “recent” as it was introduced in 1990.
This kind of overall [Japanese] adaptability regarding national holidays, can lead to confusion for those working with Japanese companies on different levels, but having an overall understanding of when national holidays occur, and keeping track of any potential changes, should be enough to navigate when one can contact and/or do business with Japanese business partners, and so forth.
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