Photo of a father with daughter dressed in traditional kimono on Japan Culture Day at the Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gū shrine, Kamakura (2014).
Culture Day (文化の日 Bunka no Hi?) is a national holiday held annually in Japan on November 3 for the purpose of promoting culture, the arts, and academic endeavour. Festivities typically include art exhibitions, parades, and award ceremonies for distinguished artists and scholars.
Culture Day was first held in 1948, to commemorate the announcement of the post-war Japanese constitution on November 3, 1946.
November 3 was first celebrated as a national holiday in 1868, when it was called Tenchō-setsu (天長節?), a holiday held in honor of the birthday of the reigning emperor—at that time, the Meiji Emperor. (See also The Emperor’s Birthday.) With the death of the Meiji Emperor in 1912, November 3 ceased to be a holiday until 1927, when his birthday was given its own specific holiday, known as Meiji-setsu (明治節?). As Meiji-setsu was discontinued with the announcement of Culture Day in 1948, some see Culture Day as a continuation of this tradition as well—a mere renaming of Meiji-setsu—although they are ostensibly unrelated.
As Culture Day exists to promote the arts and various fields of academic endeavor, local and prefectural governments typically choose this day to hold art exhibits, culture festivals, and parades. For example, Hakone in Kanagawa Prefecture holds the annual Feudal Lord’s Parade (箱根大名行列 Hakone Daimyō Gyōretsu?) to exhibit Edo Period clothing and costumes. It is common for universities to present new research and projects on Culture Day. Primary and secondary schools often have a “culture festival” on or near this day.
Since 1936, the award ceremony for the prestigious Order of Culture has been held on this day. Given by the Emperor himself to those who have significantly advanced science, the arts or culture, it is one of the highest honors bestowed by the Imperial Family. The prize is not restricted to Japanese citizens, and for instance was awarded to the Apollo 11 astronauts upon their successful return from the moon, as well as literary scholar Donald Keene.
Culture Day is statistically one of the clearest days of the year. Between 1965 and 1996, there have only been three years with rain occurring in Tokyo on Culture Day.