Labour Thanksgiving Day (勤労感謝の日): Two Holidays in One?

Thanksgiving in Japan isn’t solely connected to the produce of the autumn harvest, it’s also a day of gratitude for the working people of Japan. So, how do these two meanings complement one another?

Posted by on November 22, 2017 – Life in Japan
Labour Thanksgiving Day

In Japan, 23rd November is also known as Labour Thanksgiving Day (Kinra Kansha no Hi, 勤労感謝の日). Similarly to other thanksgiving days around the world, this public holiday is connected to the autumn harvest. However, Kinra Kansha no Hi has the added bonus of being a day dedicated to the workers and labourers that keep Japan’s cogs turning. Whilst on the surface these concepts may seem unrelated, after a brief time-hop, their connection becomes clear.

The Origin, and Evolution, of Japan’s Thanksgiving

Labour Thanksgiving Day (along with several other holidays) was established following the creation of Japan’s post-war constitution, but the real beginnings of this gratitude-based day stem from the ancient Shinto harvest festival, “Niiname Sai” (新嘗祭).

Niiname Sai is believed to have been around for as long as rice cultivation has existed – almost 2000 years. Unfortunately, though, the earliest account of this holiday can only be found in the Chronicle of Japan, which states that a Niiname Sai took place on 678 AD. Either way, the basis of this holiday extends back over centuries. It was only after WWII that Niiname Sai acquired a new name, and a new format; to commemorate the positive changes that the post-war legislation created for human rights and workers, Niiname Sai also became a day to honour and give thanks to workers. Hence, it is it no longer dedicated solely to production, but also to the the countless workers that support Japan and the economy.

The Versatility of Thanksgiving

From Germany to Grenada, various forms of thanksgiving exist around the world. Grenadians commemorate Caribbean and American military intervention, whereas Germans celebrate “Erntedankfest” (the Harvest Festival of Thanks). Some of the other lesser-known nations that observe thanksgiving include the Netherlands, Saint Lucia and Liberia. Perhaps the most prominent thanksgiving is observed in the United States, which occurs around the same time as Japan’s. Unlike Japan though, most businesses in the US are closed on this day, allowing marching bands with balloons to takeover various cities, while families reunite to enjoy a turkey-orientated feast.

How Does Japan Commemorate Labour Thanksgiving Day?

Nothing says “I appreciate you” quite like a thank you card. So for today, many school children prepare cards or gifts to distribute to police officers, firefighters and hospital staff, thanking them for their contributions. Also, businesses often take this opportunity to review their accomplishments and congratulate their workers for their dedication.

Despite some similarities between the American and Japanese thanksgivings, the Japanese don’t honour the day with a bird-based feast, or any feast at all in fact. Instead, families come together to catch-up and enjoy a normal dinner at home. That being said, with an increasing number of Americans in various cities, some restaurants are now providing American-style thanksgiving dinners. So for anyone missing thanksgiving back home, or anyone who wants to try it, this could be your answer!

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