Culture Day, or 文化の日, is one of the very few holidays in Japan that is not liable to change due to the “Happy Monday” system, which sees most national holidays fall on a Monday. Culture Day is celebrated on the 3rd of November every year and gives most the day off from work or school, or a day in lieu if it falls on a weekend (as it does this year).
Today, it is a national holiday that supports creativity and fosters artistic ventures, with open art galleries, public displays and much more besides. But the origin of the holiday is very different to how people see it today, a log history that is all but forgotten by the vast majority of the Japanese public.
It started way back in 1868, as a date to commemorate the birthday of Emperor Meiji (明治天皇), and was called Tencho-Setsu or 天長節. The Meiji period saw some of the fastest development in Japanese history, with Matthew Perry forcing the Japanese trading route open, in turn opening the floodgates for foreign trade, culture and technology. Japan soon became a world power, which also meant they became a fighting force to be reckoned with; as much of Asia would attest to at the time.
1912 saw the death of the Meiji period and so the day was officially cancelled as a national holiday. With Emperor Hirohito taking the reigns of power, Japan entered the First World War along with the Allied Forces and continued to grow in strength.
In 1927, November 3rd was reassigned as a national holiday, called Meiji Setsu, a day set aside to recognize and praise the rapid growth Japan went through during the Meiji Era. Going from a feudal country to an industrial revolutionized state in a couple of decades.
Following the loss of the Second World War, occupation by Allied Forces and the signing of a new constitution, Japan acquiesced to the Emperor being no more than:
“The symbol of the state and the unity of the people.” Which roughly translates into saying, the Emperor is purely ceremonial and holds no real power in regards to Japanese warfare, politics or international disputes. Any claims that the Royal Family had to being directly descendant from Gods was also to be denied, as was their unwavering control over the Japanese populace.
Because of this, Meiji Setsu was officially forbidden to be celebrated and was removed from the Japanese calendar. It was replaced a couple of years later however, with Culture Day (文化の日), which began in 1948.
Now the holiday is celebrated nationwide, and although there are festivals and exhibitions held throughout the country, some of the elderly and perhaps more cynical Japanese residents see it as a simple renaming of a holiday, so that a celebration of the Emperor could slip past the water-tight constitution, which Japan reluctantly signed over sixty years ago.
Learn more about the history and language of Japanese national holidays in the GaijinPot Study series.