Culture day in Japan (Bunka no Hi) is celebrated every year on November 3rd. The Japanese national festival, culture day, is celebrated to celebrate art, culture and academic triumphants.
Read on to find out everything about Japanese culture day.
How well do you know the place you live in? Have you done all the touristy things, or have you put it away for “some day”? Do you know the artists in your town or the beautiful pieces of art that are created?
Sometimes we could have lived in a place for many years without understanding its history or culture. Japan makes sure its people know about the culture of the country by designating a special day once a year to learn and explore.
Not just any other holiday, the Japanese Culture Day is when artists, scholars and performers of the country are honoured by promoting various art forms.
Full of colour, music and festivities conducted all over the country, this is a day for getting to know all the popular Japanese artists and scholars.
Celebrating Culture Day In Japan: Everything You Need To Know
History of Japanese Culture Day or Bunka No Hi
The history of Japanese Culture Day, known as “Bunka no Hi,” can be traced back to the Meiji period (1868-1912). During this time, Japan underwent a period of rapid modernization and Westernization under Emperor Meiji.
As part of these efforts, the government sought to establish a national holiday that would emphasize the importance of culture and education.
Initially, November 3rd was designated as a holiday to celebrate the enthronement of Emperor Meiji in 1868. This day was known as the “Emperor’s Birthday” and was primarily focused on honoring the emperor himself.
However, as Japan’s post-World War II constitution was enacted in 1947, the holiday underwent significant changes.
In 1948, November 3rd was officially renamed “Culture Day” with the purpose of highlighting and promoting traditional Japanese culture, arts, and academic achievements.
The decision to rebrand the holiday was made to align with the new democratic principles of the constitution and emphasize the importance of intellectual and cultural pursuits in the nation’s rebuilding process.
Culture Day became an opportunity for the Japanese people to reflect on their cultural heritage and promote the arts.
It aimed to foster a sense of national pride and unity while encouraging individuals to contribute to the enrichment of Japan’s cultural landscape.
One of the key events associated with Culture Day is the presentation of the Order of Culture. Established in 1937, this prestigious award is bestowed upon individuals who have made exceptional contributions to the fields of art, literature, science, and other cultural endeavors.
The Order of Culture is presented annually by the Emperor of Japan during a ceremony held at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo.
Since its establishment, Culture Day has become a cherished national holiday in Japan. It is marked by various cultural activities, exhibitions, and performances held throughout the country.
These events showcase traditional arts, calligraphy, music, dance, tea ceremonies, martial arts demonstrations, and more. Schools and educational institutions often organize special programs where students participate in cultural activities and display their talents.
Japanese Culture Day continues to serve as a reminder of the significance of culture, education, and artistic expression in Japan’s history and identity. It encourages the preservation and celebration of traditional culture while embracing contemporary artistic and intellectual pursuits.
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How Culture Day in Japan is celebrated
Culture Day, or “Bunka no Hi,” is celebrated with a variety of cultural activities and events throughout Japan. It is an occasion for people to immerse themselves in traditional arts, customs, and academic pursuits, as well as appreciate the contributions of individuals who have enriched the nation’s culture. Here are some common ways in which Culture Day is celebrated:
- Exhibitions and Art Displays
Cultural institutions, museums, and art galleries often organize special exhibitions during this time. These exhibitions showcase a wide range of artistic expressions, including traditional crafts, paintings, sculptures, and calligraphy. Visitors have the opportunity to explore Japan’s rich artistic heritage and contemporary creations.
- Music and Dance Performances
Various music and dance performances take place across the country on Culture Day. These performances feature traditional Japanese instruments, such as the shamisen (a three-stringed instrument) and the koto (a thirteen-stringed instrument), as well as classical dance forms like Noh and Kabuki. It’s a chance to witness the beauty and grace of Japanese performing arts.
- Tea Ceremonies
Tea ceremonies, or “chado” in Japanese, hold a special place in Japanese culture. On Culture Day, there are often demonstrations or workshops where visitors can experience the intricacies of the tea ceremony. Participants learn about the etiquette, preparation, and appreciation of matcha (powdered green tea) while enjoying a moment of tranquility.
- Martial Arts Demonstrations
Japan has a rich martial arts heritage, and Culture Day provides an opportunity to showcase various martial arts disciplines. Demonstrations may include karate, judo, kendo (Japanese swordsmanship), aikido, or kyudo (Japanese archery). Experts and practitioners display their skills and provide insights into the philosophy and techniques of their respective martial arts.
- Traditional Costume Parades
In some cities or neighborhoods, parades featuring participants dressed in traditional Japanese attire are organized on Culture Day. These parades showcase the vibrant and diverse costumes of different regions and historical periods. It’s a visual spectacle where people can witness the beauty and craftsmanship of traditional garments.
- Academic and Cultural Events
Schools and educational institutions play an important role in celebrating Culture Day. They often organize special events where students present their academic and artistic achievements. These events may include music recitals, theatrical performances, poetry readings, and art exhibitions. It is a chance for students to showcase their talents and express their creativity.
- Awards and Recognitions
One of the significant events on Culture Day is the presentation of the Order of Culture by the Emperor of Japan at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. The Order of Culture is awarded to individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the fields of art, literature, science, and other cultural endeavors. The ceremony honors their achievements and serves as a symbol of national recognition.
Awarding the Order of Ceremony Award on Japanese Culture Day
This is one of the main events of the Japanese Culture Day, as it highlights and honours the country’s best artists and scholars. This ceremony was first conducted in the year 1937 by the then Prime Minister, Hiroyuki Hirota.
Everybody who has made a significant contribution to the fields of arts, culture, sports, literature, science or technology is recognised and bestowed an award during this ceremony.
However, to be eligible and to qualify for the award, the candidate should have already been given the “Person of Cultural Merit” award.
Ministers of the respective fields nominate the candidates for the Order of Ceremony Award.
The recipients of the award are personally congratulated and acknowledged by the Emperor in the Imperial Palace.
This is considered as one of the highest levels of honour that can be bestowed on a citizen. Some of the well known people who have received this award is the popular fashion designer Issey Miyake, and the most reputed conductor, Seiji Ozawa.
Though the majority of the award recipients are Japanese citizens, the country has also recognised many Nobel laureates, artists and scholars from the rest of the world.
The winners can refuse the award if they choose to, as well. One of the people who refused the Order of Ceremony award was the well known Japanese novelist Kenzaburo Oe.
This ceremony is widely telecast and appears on the national news as well.
Meiji Shrine Autumn Festival
For some real fun, you must head to the Meiji Shrine to watch the Meiji Shrine Autumn Festival. This is a festival which goes on for about 3 days in honour of the Emperor Meiji. What sets this apart is that this shrine only has the best performers of the nation performing here.
This means you are definitely in for an audio visual treat without a doubt. Some of these performers and performances occur only during Japanese Culture Week, so this is an event that you simply cannot skip.
You will witness lots of martial arts events and several cultural performances. One of the best performances is the Bugaku. This is a dance that was traditionally performed only for the aristocrats and the elites of the society.
Another interesting performance is the Kyogen. This is a comic theatre that dates back to the 14th century.
It goes hand in hand with Noh, another dance drama performance from the same era. Aikido is a self defence martial art that is unique to Japan, and this is something that is not to be missed.
For some more quick and adrenaline sparking activity, watch the Yabusame, where Japanese horseback archers perform dressed in the traditional Kamakura period costumes and attire.
Those who love music will absolutely enjoy the Hogaku, a beautiful rendition of Japanese traditional music.
ACA National Arts Festival
The Agency of Cultural Affairs, or ACA for short, conducts its own set of performances to further spread the work of Japan’s talented artists and scholars.
Apart from the performances, there is also an award ceremony which recognises new talent to encourage creativity in the society and among the people.
Here, you will be able to enjoy plenty of dances, music and theatre, and the artists are usually from the fields of media and entertainment.
Tokyo Jidai-Matsuri and Shirasagi No-Mai
The Festival of the Ages or the Jidai-Matsuri is the highlight of Tokyo during the Japanese Culture Day. This is a historical parade that takes place on the streets of Asakusa.
This parade is something many flock to watch as it recreates the history of Tokyo and showcases its culture. Not a simple one by any means, this parade has about 1600 volunteers who dress up in historical and cultural costumes and clothes to represent the various eras.
The aim of this parade is to establish Tokyo as the cultural and historical hub of the country.
Jidai-Matsuri is not the only popular event held in Tokyo for the culture day celebrations.
Another famous event that many never miss is the Shirasagi No-Mai or the White Heron Dance. As you can guess from the name, this involves dancers dressed up with white wings, representing herons.
This is also a parade cum dance where, apart from the dancers, there are baton twirlers, musicians and bird feeders. This event is not unique to Japanese Culture Day, though. It is also performed during the Golden Week.
How You Can Join The Culture Day Celebrations in Japan
If you are an expat living in Japan, or if you happen to travel to Japan during the Japanese culture day, you might want to join in with the celebrations.
Take advantage of the free entry for most Japanese museums on this day since it is meant to spread awareness of the Japanese arts and culture. Explore the museums to your heart’s content and learn all about the traditions of the beautiful country.
Visit the different cities where events and performances are conducted. Some places have these going for more than just one day, giving you time to plan your week.
Even if you’re not in Japan during the Bunka no hi, you can learn about the Japanese culture and experience it. Japan recognises every little bit of art, so you can dabble in the arts that appeal to you as a start.
Maybe think about trying your hand at Japanese arts and crafts, music and dances. With so many video tutorials, it’s not difficult to dabble in fine arts and performing arts.
One of the easiest and most interesting things to try your hand in is Origami. Origami is a delicate art form that you can explore, starting with the easiest designs and moving to the more complicated ones.
Decorate your home with lots of origami birds, animals and other designs to immerse yourself in the Japanese culture of celebrating art. Play some mesmerising Japanese music in the background, sway to the sounds, close your eyes and be transported to Japan.
Rustle up some delicious Japanese food in your kitchen, trying out some new dishes and unique flavours. There is no one right way to join the Japanese Culture Day Celebrations.
Most importantly, the true essence of the Japanese Culture Day and Week which should not be forgotten is togetherness, unity, peace and freedom. Make sure you share your celebrations with your family, friends and loved ones to truly celebrate Bunka no hi.