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Kinro Kansha No Hi: Is It Labor Day or Thanksgiving?

I am an expat living in Japan. Every day is an adventure and a blessing. Here are some of my most memorable experiences.

Kinro Kansha No Hi is somewhat akin to Labor Day in Japan, but there are some key differences.

Kinro Kansha No Hi is somewhat akin to Labor Day in Japan, but there are some key differences.

Japan's Labor Day

Kinro Kansha No Hi is a Japanese national holiday honoring the work we've done all year. So, it's like Labor Day back home, right? Well, sort of.

On November 23, Japan takes the day off for Kinro Kansha No Hi. Ask anyone and they say it's Labor Day—a day to chill or go shopping. I can handle that. My girlfriend and I stay home. Relatives who live nearby sometimes visit for dinner, which is always fun.

No festivals, no fireworks—it's very low-key and relaxed. But dig a little deeper and you see something more fascinating. What can be more fascinating than a day off?

Rice fields in Hiroshima.

Rice fields in Hiroshima.

Niinamesai: A Harvest Festival

This is the summer rice of Hiroshima Prefecture. Rice is harvested throughout the autumn season in many countries, including Japan.

OK, so what's this have to do with a November holiday? By the end of November, just about everything grown in the summer is harvested, especially rice.

Rice is sacred in Japan, because it feeds millions of Japanese people each day. It has for thousands of years. Many Japanese people say that they can tell the difference between rice grown in Japan from rice grown in other countries. (I'm still a skeptic of this.)

These days, Kinro Kansha No Hi is a modern holiday that replaced an ancient harvest festival called Niinamesai. Niinamesai included a special ritual where the Emperor of Japan offered the year's first freshly harvested rice to the gods.

Thanks to modern technology, it takes about six months for rice to be planted, grown, and harvested—long before November's Kinro Kansha No Hi or Niinamesai. These days, by November, people all over Japan gather to harvest the year's freshly imported goods to prepare for another ancient holiday known as Christmas.

Praise be to the gods.

A rice field in Hiroshima during the summer.

A rice field in Hiroshima during the summer.

What About Me? What About You?

If you're in Japan, you'll enjoy a day off. At the same time, if you're an American like myself, you'll be thinking of Thanksgiving back home. Thanksgiving is an American holiday. People in Japan know about it but nobody celebrates it. So what's an American to do?

My first Thanksgiving in Japan I was working. For dinner, I went to McDonald's before I caught the train back to my place. I collapsed on my bed, exhausted. Expat friends did their best to simulate Thanksgiving by going to their local "Irish" pub and having fried chicken and beer together. My family was terrified but, looking back, it was funny.

An American skipping Thanksgiving or a Japanese holding their nose to rice abroad, that's the show. That's the experience of living abroad.

For more information about this special holiday, take a look at the video below. When you do, remember that the subtitles are your friend!

Happy Thanksgiving. Happy Holidays. Happy Kinro Kansha No Hi.

More Japanese Holidays: Fun All Year Long!

  • Summer Ends With Ikeda's Gangarabi Matsuri
    Love fire? So does Ikeda! On August 24, they love to set the nearby mountain on fire and carry ginormous torches through the streets of the city. You have to see it to believe it!

What do you think? What do you do on Labor Day?

TransplantedSoul on February 26, 2013:

What a great way to celebrate labour day - nice and low key.

casquid on December 06, 2012:

It is always interesting to find out about the "Oneness" in all of us. No one is left out. We all celebrate, just choose different times and other values to attach to the celebration. Thank you for opening eyes with this information.

Also, thank you for visiting and liking another of my lenses.