After the high of Golden Week, a long weekend in July is just what Japan needs to wind down and relax. Marine day, or Umi no Hi (海の日), is all about the sand, sun, and water – a perfect way not to let the scorching summer heat get the best of people.
How Umi no Hi started
Marine Day is a relatively new holiday in Japan. Until 1996, it was known as Marine Memorial Day. It was also not a designated national holiday until 1995, making it the first holiday in the summer season. Marine Memorial Day was held to celebrate the Meiji Emperor’s return to the Port of Yokohama in 1876 after visiting the northeastern part of the country on the steamboat Meiji Maru.
Since it was not an official holiday, several ocean-related organizations got together in 1991, requesting that the government establish a holiday commemorating the ocean. Needless to say, the movement was well-accepted by the public, and the National Diet got debating for a few years until it was announced a national holiday in 1995.
Changes to the holiday
Marine Day used to be celebrated on the third Monday of July as part of the government’s “Happy Monday” reform where a few holidays with fixed dates were moved to Mondays to give the people a couple of long weekends. In 2003, however, the holiday was set to July 20. It is said that the children were the happiest upon the announcement of the holiday as their summer vacations usually began on July 21; hence the additional day was well-received.
In 2020, the holiday was moved to July 23 in light of the 2020 Summer Olympics. Even though the Olympics was postponed, the government decided to keep the date for 2021, although moved it a day earlier to July 22.
Show gratitude for the oceans
Don’t be surprised if you ask the Japanese what the holiday means and receive a blank response. They don’t really know why the day is celebrated, mainly because it doesn’t have a long history or cultural traditions such as Children’s Day or New Year’s. So basically, Marine Day doesn’t entail hanging carp streamers or visiting the temple.
Instead, many visit the Japanese coastline. Did you know that Japan is probably the only country in the world where a celebration of the earth’s waters is a national holiday? Given the island country’s reliance on the seas for its economic and cultural achievements, it’s no wonder. Not only does the country rely on the surrounding waters for sustenance, but it has also helped preserve the uniquely Japanese culture. Marine Day might not have traditions set on stone, but a visit to the beach to bask in the beauty of nature is celebration enough.
Celebrate the holiday beside the sea
The weather is perfect for a beach trip during Marine Day. However, when you do get there, there is one practice you should be aware of. Even though Marine Day celebrations may vary from town to town, many uphold the mud-throwing event. No, people don’t throw mud at each other, even though that would be fun and even rejuvenating for the skin.
In line with taking care of marine life, the dried mud filled with effective microorganisms (EMs) is actually good for ocean water. They help break down and reduce natural sea grime, thus giving the waters a nice cleanse. During the holiday, you can also expect communities to organize clean-up missions of their local beaches. You get the spend time with family, get a break from work and give back to nature – it’s a win-win!
If having a beach day is on your itinerary for the holiday, you can head over to Odaiba, Yokohama, Kamakura, Chiba, or Enoshima for the popular spots. These are also accessible from Tokyo JR station.
Don’t miss out on city celebrations, too
Once you’re done taking a dip, throwing mud balls, and picking up trash, you can wait for another recently-established tradition: lighting lanterns. This is especially popular on the seafront in Odaiba, Tokyo. Volunteers set up hundreds of paper lanterns, and they are laid out in a particular design. As the night extends, fireworks light up the skies, and an extra special celebration is held at the Port of Yokohama. Marine Day also entails a colorful parade featuring floats and music. Gratitude for nature and togetherness has become the culture surrounding this holiday, and it is a practice that is upheld much like tradition.
Suppose you don’t have the opportunity to head over to a beach on Marine Day. In that case, there are many other venues you can check out with the same theme, such as Tokyo’s three aquariums: Tokyo Sealife, Sunshine, or Sumida. The Sumida, Arakawa, or Kanda-gawa Rivers are other options if you want something in between the city and water. They’re perfect spots for a relaxing stroll away from the crowds.
Given the current coronavirus pandemic situation, it is advised to check beforehand if venues are open during the holiday. Calling in advance if parks, beaches, and aquariums are open and until what time will save you a lot of stress in the long run.