What is Japan's Thanksgiving? Celebrating Work

    OK, obviously Japan doesn't celebrate the same Thanksgiving that we do in America; America's Thanksgiving is a cornucopia-filled holiday with a lot of traditions unique to the good ol' US of A.

    But even though Japan doesn't have Thanksgiving the same way we understand it in the US, Japan still has a Thanksgiving holiday right around the same time. It's called kinrōkanshahi 勤労感謝の日きんろうかんしゃひ 勤労感謝の日, or Labor Thanksgiving Day, and it's a national holiday.

    It has the same roots as Thanksgiving here in the US – it was once a fall harvest festival, but has since changed in meaning. Nowadays, Labor Thanksgiving Day is a holiday celebrating workers in Japan.

    How can you compare American Thanksgiving Day and Japanese Labor Thanksgiving Day? What's the same and what's different? Let's take a look:

    How is Japanese Thanksgiving the Same?

    Several Thank You cards hung on clothesline
    Source: Robert Barney

    Being Thankful

    Both American and Japanese Thanksgiving days both, obviously, focus on giving thanks. In America, it's more about giving thanks in an abstract sense – giving thanks for the things that have happened to you, the people in your life, etc. – but in Japan, it's a lot more specific.

    In Japan, Labor Thanksgiving Day is about being thankful for workers who do their job and do it well. Sometimes you literally thank those people — school kids sometimes make thank you cards and gifts for municipal workers like police, firefighters, and hospital workers.

    An old wooden door with a closed sign for Thanksgiving
    Source: jojomelons

    National Holiday

    In both countries, Thanksgiving Day is a national holiday. In the US, the president "pardons" a turkey, there's a huge parade in New York City, a lot of businesses are closed, and government services are mostly shut down.

    In Japan, it's not quite as festive, but still very much a national holiday. Most businesses are still open on Labor Thanksgiving Day, but government services are closed down. There are little celebrations all over the country, but none with the spectacle of the celebrations in the US.

    How is Japanese Thanksgiving Different?

    Plate of food at a Thanksgiving dinner
    Source: Roadsidepictures

    No Turkey

    Sorry Japanese people, but you don't get enormous, heart-attack inducing feasts the way us Americans do. On the plus side, turkeys needn't fear the annual genocide they face here in the US.

    Pamphlet from the 2007-2008 Berlitz Japan Strike
    Source: hiroaki maeda

    Political Holiday

    While you might get into some heated conversations with your relatives during Thanksgiving in the US (will somebody tell my uncle that the election is over?!), it's generally a pretty apolitical holiday. It's pretty hard to politicize big meals and families getting together.

    Now Labor Thanksgiving Day isn't an explicitly political holiday, but it definitely has political implications. Labor organizations across the country take the opportunity to have a conversation about the accomplishments of the labor movement, workers' rights, etc..

    So whether you're celebrating Thanksgiving Day in the US or Labor Thanksgiving Day in Japan, have a good holiday!