Celebrate: Culture Day 2014

As you read this, I am probably recovering from a wet and rainy weekend on the Kumano Kodo, the old pilgrimage path on the Kii Peninsula (Wakayama Prefecture, south of Osaka). Last year, I read that Culture Day is statistically one of the sunniest days of the year. This year it more than made up for that by raining every. single. day of the weekend. Sigh. Thank goodness for onsen.

Culture Day (Bunka no Hi in Japanese), while seemingly obvious in its intent, has one of the most interesting explanations of a Japanese public holiday. It actually celebrates the current Japanese constitution. “Now, hold on a sec …”, those of you with a working knowledge of Japanese holidays might be saying. Isn’t there an actual Constitution Day in May? Right you are. The current Japanese constitution – created hand-in-hand with the United States after the end of World War II – was announced to the public on November 3, 1946. Yet it didn’t take effect until May 3, 1947, the day that is officially celebrated as Constitution Day (and makes up part of Japan’s Golden Week).  So why call this one culture day? Apparently, it’s for the furthering of the ideals of the Constitution – the love of peace and freedom – through cultural events. A bit of a stretch in my opinion, but one of the holidays more widely accessible to the average visitor.

Culture Day is actually a great day to be in Japan, as a number of events and festivals are planned around the holiday. Many museums offer free admission or open their doors for longer hours. Hakone (just outside Tokyo) showcases Edo-era costumes during their feudal lords parade. Tokyo’s Meiji Shrine offers traditional music and Noh performances. Yabusame (archery on horseback) is performed in Saitama and Ibaraki prefectures, while Nara’s Tanzan Shrine holds a festival of ancient ball-kicking. The website of the Japan National Tourism Organization (jnto.co.jp/en) is a great resource for events around the nation.

As for me, I’ll personally be drying out my waterproofs from our multi-day adventure. Expect to hear more on the Kumano Kodo soon!

A traditional ball game in Kyoto
A traditional ball game in Kyoto


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