A Day of Thanksgiving, Japanese-Style


Just one day after most Americans gather with friends and family to enjoy the traditional Thanksgiving meal of turkey, sweet potatoes, cranberries and pumpkin pie, another nation also celebrates a day of thanks.

Today’s holiday in Japan is called “Kinrokansha,” or “Thanksgiving Labor Day.”

In a nation where the average worker labors 2,150 hours a year--compared to about 1,800 hours for Americans, according to a special issue of Forbes magazine--the Thanksgiving Labor Day may be, as one person put it, “just a day off.”

In fact, some Japanese do not even bother to take that day off. Natsuko Amito, a college student studying in Washington, D.C., said she gets annoyed when her father goes to work on Kinrokansha.


Thanksgiving in the United States originated in 1621 when Plymouth Gov. William Bradford invited neighboring Indians for a three-day festival to give thanks for a bountiful harvest.

By the end of the 19th Century, Thanksgiving Day had become an institution in New England and was proclaimed a national holiday by President Lincoln in 1863. An act of Congress in 1941 officially designated the holiday to be celebrated the fourth Thursday in November.

In 1879 Canada first adopted Thanksgiving as a national holiday, and it is now celebrated annually on the second Monday in October.

Before World War II, Kinrokansha was not celebrated. Instead, there was a holiday called “Niinamesai,” which only the emperor and his family celebrated, as an occasion to give thanks for a good harvest.

After the war, Japan adapted Kinrokansha to replace Niinamesai. “Unlike your Thanksgiving and unlike Niinamesai, Kinrokansha is not a religious-based holiday at all,” said Katsuhiro Shinohara, cultural attache for the Japanese Embassy.

Like Thanksgiving, however, Kinrokansha celebrates autumn. Japanese people grow pumpkins to enjoy what they call “Koyo,” or the “red leaf” season.


Though it is an official national holiday, Kinrokansha is not yet fully observed, especially among the older generation.

“The Japanese have fewer holidays than the Americans. We also have longer hours,” said Taki Yoshi, a former Japanese banker now studying economics in the United States. When he was a banker, Yoshi said he used to work six days a week, often from 8:30 a.m. until 10 p.m.

This ethic of hard work in Japan may be changing, however, along with a growing appreciation for holidays.

Shinohara is among those who see changes on the horizon in Japan, but being “perhaps a bit old-fashioned,” he does not look at these changes with optimism.

“The younger generation wants less work and more salary,” he said. Worried about the future for Japan, he said, “We only have one resource and that is manpower. If that deteriorates, it’s very simple: We are finished.”

Yoshi said he might get a job in the United States after he finishes his studies because he said it is more relaxing to live in America. But like Shinohara, he believes that attitudes in his country are changing.

“The true meaning of Kinrokansha, a holiday to thank ourselves for our work, is becoming more emphasized as companies now offer more vacation time,” he said. “It’s a demand they have to meet.”

For those Japanese who will celebrate Kinrokansha, the holiday means a relaxing meal of noribachi (fish), rice, and tea after a family visit to a park or amusement center.