Living in Japan

Get to know the newest holiday in Japan: Mountain Day

With Japan’s terrain being 75 percent mountainous, you can expect there to be a holiday established for the mountains. Get to know the youngest holiday in the country and what you can do to celebrate.

Japan has Greenery Day in May and Marine Day in July – it only follows that the country, which upholds great respect for nature, created another one for the mountains. Despite being the youngest holiday in the group, traditions revolving around it continue to grow. Here’s a quick guide to everything you need to know about Yama no Hi (山の日) or Mountain Day.

Welcome the youngest holiday

Hiking and mountain-related groups have called for a day to celebrate the mountains for quite some time. They wished the entire country would celebrate its terrain and further establish its cultural connection to nature.

They did have a point, given Japan’s 100 active volcanoes, more than 3,000 hot springs, and even 5,000 earthquakes a year that is connected, in one way or another, to the mountains and tectonic plate movement. You also have densely packed and urbanized cities on the flat areas surrounded by hills and mountains, yet another symbol of the country’s respect for geography. Therefore, Mountain Day was made official in 2014, although it wasn’t celebrated until 2016.

Choosing the date

Even before the date was made official, it is known that several places in Japan already celebrated a form of Mountain Day on August 11. The specific date was chosen because the kanji for the number eight “八” looks like a mountain. With eight being August in the calendar and the number 11 looking somewhat like two trees, the two were put together to create the date of the special day. It stuck, even when the holiday was made official. It just so happens that there were no other public holidays in August; thus the addition of Mountain Day into the calendar was well-received.

Despite the Japanese government’s move to switch some of the public holidays to a Monday under the “Happy Monday” system, creating a long weekend and giving the population more chances to unwind throughout the year, Mountain Day has remained on the same date. Coincidentally, the country is known to have its people working excessive hours and not taking any leaves included in their benefits.

The addition of Mountain Day has also made Japan the country with the most number of public holidays, currently at 16, than any other member of the Group of Eight (G8) world powers. The list consists of France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Russia, and Japan.

Only two other Mountain Days in the world

Did you know that there are only three “Mountain Day” celebrations in the world? One is in the US, dating back to around 1838, when students from Mount Holyoke College went to its namesake mountain. From there, different colleges around the country followed suit and designated a day to climb a particular mountain.

Meanwhile, the United Nations General Assembly in 2003 designated December 11 as International Mountain Day to “encourage the international community to organize events at all levels on that day to highlight the importance of sustainable mountain development.” For example, in 2010, International Mountain Day was all about raising awareness about the indigenous communities living in mountain environments and the importance of protecting their cultural heritage.

Ways to celebrate the holiday

Grab your hiking shoes and take a trip to any of Japan’s peaks on Mountain Day. In Tokyo, Mt. Takao is the most accessible. The trek is also beginner-friendly, with numerous trails available and reaching the top only takes an hour and a half. You can also consider hiking Mt. Mitake, Mt. Mito, Mt. Tsukuba, and Mt. Mitsutoge. With summer ending and the cool breeze of autumn fast approaching, the weather also makes the trip even more enjoyable.

If climbing isn’t your thing, you can also celebrate the holiday by taking a dip at an onsen like Oedo Onsen Monogatari in Koto City. The experience allows you to bask in the beauty of nature and how subterranean volcanic activity can result in such a relaxing activity. A quick Google search gives you multiple choices to the hot springs in Tokyo. While there are no traditions set in stone for Mountain Day, you can easily make one and celebrate its importance with friends and loved ones.

Say “hi” to Fuji-san

On Mountain Day, you can also take some time to catch a glimpse of Mt. Fuji or “Fuji-san,” as the locals call it. Mt. Fuji is one of the most famous mountains globally and takes the top of the list in Japan. It is a stratovolcano consisting of three active, separate volcanoes. You can expect avid climbers to visit Mt. Fuji during the holiday, so if you wish to avoid the crowd, a simple “hi” would do from the following spots in Tokyo: Mt. Takao in Hachioji, Tokyo Tower’s Observatory, The SkyTree’s Observation Deck, Roppongi Hills Sky Deck, and Haneda Airport International Passenger Terminal at the fifth floor.

In line with the 2020 Summer Olympics, the 2020 date for Mountain Day was moved to August 10 as a special arrangement. Since the international sports event was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, the government kept the change for the following year, so Mountain Day in 2021 will be on Monday (August 9) to coincide with the Olympics’ closing ceremony.

Whether you plan on taking a stroll to a hill, painting Fuji-san, or breathing in the pure air on top of a mountain, the holiday serves as a reminder to hit pause once in a while and appreciate the simple wonders of the world.

Hana is a freelance writer, finance analyst, and chef who pursues various hobbies. She aspires to be a philanthropist who helps out others in any way she can.

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