The second Japanese holiday in November falls on the 23rd of the month and is called Labor Thanksgiving Day, or Kinroukansha no Hi (勤労感謝の日). On this day, people are encouraged to give thanks for their employment and the prosperity that their working brings to their families. It is also a day to pay respects to civil servants, so it is not uncommon for Elementary Schools to make “Thank You” cards for local hospitals, fire stations or Koban (police boxes).
The holiday, as we know it today, was formed in 1948, following Japan singing the post-war constitution that was written by allied forces. In accordance to Japan losing its Imperialistic status, the holiday allowed people to make thanks for their recently introduced workers’ rights, such as minimum wages, a cap on working hours and the formation of unions. It was also set to have people celebrate their new-found freedom, no longer being subjects beneath a ruling Emperor; in turn supporting the shift their country was going through, instead of fighting against it.
But the true origins of the holiday go back much further, some believe to the 8th century, making it one of the oldest and longest running holidays in Japan.
Although still a day of thanksgiving, it was originally intended to give thanks to the seasonal cereals that were harvested before the onset of the bitter cold winter. Through the cold seasons, people were reliant on rice, grain, millet and dried beans, so their showing thanks to the foods that kept them alive seems like a sensible idea.
The holiday was formally known as Niiname Sai (新嘗祭) and the Emperor himself would dedicate the foods to the gods, and would be the first in the country to taste the new rice harvest. Following the war and the removal of the Emperor’s family acting as head of state, this tradition was banned and the focus of the holiday was shifted.
But in essence, the holiday changed very little; both still celebrate the idea that everyone reaps what they sow, and that everyone should be thankful for what they have, as it is fortune as well as hard-work that keeps us in good health.
It is also rumored that although the public celebrate Labor Thanksgiving day, the Imperial Household still continue the tradition of Niiname Sai, and the Emperor is the first (within the family) to try the year’s freshest harvest of rice.