Holiday gives thanks to workers in Japan

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Omike of Niinamesai at the Betsugu Tsukiyomi-no-miya Sanctuary of Kotaijingu(Naiku) in Ise city, Mie prefecture Photo by Wikimedia
Omike of Niinamesai at the Betsugu Tsukiyomi-no-miya Sanctuary of Kotaijingu(Naiku) in Ise city, Mie prefecture Photo by Wikimedia

Holiday gives thanks to workers in Japan

by: Takahiro Takiguchi | .
Stripes Japan | .
published: November 25, 2014

While Americans celebrate Thanksgiving Day in late November, the Japanese have Labor Thanksgiving Day on Nov. 23 every year to commemorate worker productivity and thank one another for their labor.

Although the holidays are similar in name, concept and date, there is no actual relation between the two.

“The Japanese holiday originated as an imperial religious tradition observed in ancient times called Niinamesai (harvest festival),” says Masahiko Uchino of Japan’s Cabinet Office.

Traditionally, during a religious ritual conducted exclusively in the imperial court, the emperor would dedicate the year’s harvest to his ancestors and Shinto gods out of gratitude for the bounty. He would do the same for rice a little later after its harvest in late November.

Shinto shrines throughout the nation performed similar rituals of thanksgiving to their respective gods in keeping with this imperial tradition.

“This old imperial tradition was legislated as a national holiday and fixed to Nov. 23 in accordance with the then newly introduced solar calendar about 140 years ago,” Uchino says.

According to Uchino, this Niinamesai holiday was then  renamed Kinro Kansha no Hi, or Labor Thanksgiving Day, in 1948.

“Since Niinamesai only gave thanks for agricultural products, the new democratic constitution required legislators to change it to apply to all laborers, not only farmers and agricultural products,” Uchino says. “By making it Labor Thanksgiving Day, this holiday gave each citizen an opportunity to express gratitude for all work done throughout the year and for the fruits of those labors – whether cultural activities, industrial developments or scientific achievements.”

Today, while traditional Niinamesai is still celebrated within Japan’s imperial court and at shrines, the general public observes it as Labor Thanksgiv ing Day. To show appreciation to those who are working for their communities and families, Japanese sometimes give small gifts to their employees and fathers on this holiday.

However, there are no traditional foods such as turkey and stuffing that are consumed like there is in the States. Kindergarteners and elementary school students often present their drawings and handicrafts to police officers at the nearest police station to thank them for their efforts, as well.

“Niinamesai may have been renamed to include a broader concept,” says Uchino, “but its original spirit – showing appreciation for an annual harvest – remains at the core of this holiday.”

takiguchi.takahiro@stripes.com

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