Japan has 15 public holidays every year. 15! That’s pretty generous, right? I thought so.
Until I discovered that, this year, 5 of them fall on Saturday. Now, if the public holiday falls on Sunday, they move it to the following day, you get a three-day long weekend, and everyone’s happy.
But if they fall on Saturday, tough luck. Saturday is already a day off (for most office workers, schools, etc.) and somehow the fact that it’s also a public holiday doesn’t make you feel any more festive than you would on a regular Saturday.
Now, the odds would suggest that one holiday in 7 would fall on a Saturday, so you would lose maybe 2 holidays each year on average; 5 out of 15 would be a complete statistical freak. But the reality is even more improbable.
You see, 4 of the holidays always fall on a Monday, every year. So there are only 11 “floating” holidays that can fall on any day of the week. And this year, the one year that I am living and working in Japan, 5 of them are on Saturday. Of all the luck!
Anyway, today I am enjoying a day off work that is not on a Saturday: 体育の日 tai-iku no hi, a day for sporty and healthy activities. It commemorates the opening of the Tokyo Olympics in 1964.
The names of the Japanese public holidays tend to suggest an “improving” activity that you can do on that day. For example:
- みどりの日 midori no hi—Greenery Day. A day for appreciating nature.
- 海の日 umi no hi—Marine Day. A day for appreciating the ocean and maybe swimming in it.
- 敬老の日 keirou no hi—Respect for the Aged Day. A day for respecting the aged. And maybe going to visit them.
- 体育の日 tai-iku no hi—Physical Education Day (that’s today). A day for engaging in healthy and sporty activities. Apart from cycling to the shops, we didn’t really enter into the spirit of the day.
- 文化の日 bunka no hi—Culture Day. A day for celebrating culture. (Saturday, boo!)
Note on the word of the day:
体育 tai-iku means “physical education”. The first character 体 tai means “body” and the second character 育 iku is to bring up or to educate.
The character 日 hi, meaning “day” is also the character for “sun” and is found in the name of Japan 日本 nihon, lit. “sun origin”. Whenever I see the word 本日 honjitsu, which is a polite word for “today”, I initially misread it as 日本. Every time. A kind of kanji version of dyslexia.