Japanese Vacation System: The Substitute Holidays

If you have read the article “National Holidays in Japan” which we updated, you should have noticed that there are always one or two “Substitute Holiday” in the list of public holidays in Japan every year. However, if you look at the list of Japanese holidays for several years, you will find that there are not always substitute holidays every year. What is a substitute holiday? Why do the national holidays vary from year to year?

In this article, we will tell you what is the Japanese substitute holiday.

What is a substitute holiday

First, let’s look at the substitute holidays from 2019 to 2021.

Date Week Holidays
Aug 08, 2021 Sunday Mountain Day
Aug 09, 2021 Monday substitute holiday
Date Week Holidays
Feb 23, 2020 Sunday The Emperor’s Birthday
Feb 24, 2020 Monday substitute holidays
May 03, 2020 Sunday Constitution Day
May 04, 2020 Monday Green Day
May 05, 2020 Tuesday Children’s Day
May 06, 2020 Wednesday substitute holidays
Date Week Holidays
Apr 29, 2019 Monday Showa’s Day
Apr 30, 2019 Tuesday Special Holiday
May 01, 2019 Wednesday The Day of the Reign of the Emperor
May 02, 2019 Thursday Special Holiday
May 03, 2019 Friday Constitution Day
May 04, 2019 Saturday Green Day
May 05, 2019 Sunday Children’s Day
May 06, 2019 Monday substitute holidays
Aug 11, 2019 Sunday Mountain Day
Aug 12, 2019 Monday substitute holidays
Nov 03, 2019 Sunday Culture Day
Nov 04, 2019 Monday substitute holidays

If you look closely at the dates of each substitute holiday, you will find that almost all substitute holidays fall on Mondays.

According to the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare’s definition and the law related to national holidays, when the 16 national holidays (i.e. legal holidays) stipulated by Japanese law overlap with Sundays, the next working day that is not a national holiday will be changed to a substitute holiday, which is what we call a day off in lieu of a holiday. However, the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare’s website now uses the term “holiday” instead of “substitute holiday”.

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Now that you know this, if you look at the table above, do you know why almost every substitute holiday falls on a Monday?

substitute holiday in long holidays

Some people may say, in the above table, May 6, 2020, is obviously a Wednesday, how come it is also a substitute holiday?

When the law was first enacted, it did not take into account the situation of multiple consecutive holidays, so it was simply stipulated that if a holiday overlaps with a Sunday, then the latter day will automatically become a substitute holiday. In other months, when holidays do not coincide, the day after a holiday is often a weekday, so such a substitute holiday scheme can be implemented; however, with the adjustment of holidays in late April and early May, there is a situation where May 3, May 4, and May 5 are all national holidays. In this case, if May 3 or May 4 falls on a Sunday, then the next day will still be a holiday, so how can it become a holiday again according to the above rule? That would be one less holiday, wouldn’t it?

Therefore, on May 20, 2005 (Heisei 17), the law related to national holidays (the Holidays Law) was amended and became effective on January 1, 2007 (Heisei 19). After the amendment, there was an improvement: instead of being limited to the day after Sunday, which is Monday, the substitute holiday will be extended to the first weekday after a holiday falling on Sunday, which is not a holiday nor a Sunday. So, for 2020, since May 3, the Constitution Day, falls on a Sunday, and both Monday and Tuesday are observed, the substitute holiday will be extended to Wednesday, May 6.

Othello-style holiday

May 2 and April 30, 2019, are marked in the table as “special holidays”. If you look at the dates, you will see that they are not substitute holidays for any two holidays, so why are these two days also holidays?

As early as December 27, 1985 (Showa 60), the law related to national holidays was also amended. This amendment stipulated that if a non-holiday day was sandwiched between two observance days, that day would automatically become a holiday. Since this rule is similar to the Othello rule (a white pawn sandwiched between two black pawns becomes a black pawn), some people call this kind of holiday an Othello holiday.

In Europe, France also has a similar holiday change, and it seems to be called a “bridge holiday” there.

Back to Japan. In 2019, there is a big event in Japan, that is, the old emperor abdicated and the new emperor ascended the throne. The new emperor will be enthroned on May 1, so Abe’s cabinet will simply make that day a unique day off for the year, and then add a double day off to the rules of Othello holidays and substitute holidays, creating a special, 10-day-long holiday from Saturday, April 27, to Monday, May 6.

Special cases of substitute holidays

All of the above are variations on the common scenarios for substitute holidays. There are some special cases below.

Overlap of Saturday

Although it is now preferred to have a double day off on Saturday and Sunday of each week, there is no extra time off when a national holiday overlaps with Saturday. That is, there is no substitute holidays for Saturday’s holiday.

Holiday overlaps with other holidays

There is no clear rule for this situation. This is because most of the holidays in Japan throughout the year have a clear month and day expression. The only possible overlap is between the Respect for the Aged Day (the third Monday of September) and the Autumnal Equinox (the day of the autumnal equinox, which is projected annually, usually on one of the days from September 21 to 23) in September. However, it would have been 2876 CE for the Respect for the Aged Day and the day of the Autumnal Equinox to coincide.

The case of New Year’s Day being a Sunday

Although in Japan, in order to allow enough time for family reunion, the year-end holiday at the beginning of the year is usually from January 1 to January 3, if New Year’s Day (January 1) falls on a Sunday, then Jan 02 will become a substitute holiday.

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