Skip to content
Japan’s Umi no Hi: Celebrating the Sea and the Beginning of Japanese Summer

Japan’s Umi no Hi: Celebrating the Sea and the Beginning of Japanese Summer

Japan, an island nation surrounded by the vast Pacific Ocean, has a deep and intrinsic connection with the sea. This bond is celebrated annually on Umi no Hi, or Marine Day, which not only honors the ocean's vital role in the country’s culture and economy but also marks the beginning of summer festivities. Umi no Hi, observed on the third Monday of July, is a relatively new national holiday, but it has quickly become a significant part of Japan’s summer celebrations.

How it started

Umi no Hi was established in 1995, making it one of Japan's newer national holidays. The origins of this holiday can be traced back to Meiji-era initiatives to commemorate the sea’s importance to Japan. In 1876, Emperor Meiji made a historical voyage aboard the Meiji Maru, a lighthouse service steamship, to the Tohoku region. This journey, symbolizing Japan’s progress and modernization through maritime activities, laid the groundwork for what would eventually become Umi no Hi.

Initially known as Marine Memorial Day, the holiday was not officially recognized nationwide until 1995. The renaming to Umi no Hi, or Marine Day, came with its establishment as a national holiday, intended to give people the opportunity to appreciate the sea and its bounty. The choice of the third Monday in July aligns with the broader shift to a long weekend, thanks to Japan’s Happy Monday System, which aims to provide citizens with more extended holidays.

umi no hi japan

Cultural Significance

The sea has always played a central role in Japan's culture, economy, and daily life. From the earliest fishing communities to the sophisticated maritime trade networks of today, Japan’s prosperity has been closely tied to the ocean. Traditional Japanese cuisine heavily features seafood, reflecting this enduring relationship. Festivals and rituals related to the sea, such as those honoring sea deities and ensuring good catches, are common throughout Japan’s history.

Umi no Hi serves as a modern expression of this deep-seated maritime culture. It is a day for the Japanese people to reflect on the blessings of the sea, recognize its importance in their daily lives, and commit to its conservation. Schools, communities, and organizations often engage in educational activities, beach clean-ups, and other events to promote awareness about marine environments and the need for their protection.

Celebrations and Activities

Umi no Hi is marked by a variety of events and activities that celebrate the sea. These include:

beach festival japan

Beach Festivals and Clean-Ups

One of the most common ways to celebrate Umi no Hi is by heading to the beach. Coastal areas across Japan host festivals featuring food stalls, live music, fireworks, and traditional performances. Many people participate in beach clean-up activities, reflecting a collective commitment to maintaining the health and beauty of Japan’s coastlines.

Maritime Parades and Exhibitions

In port cities like Yokohama and Kobe, maritime parades are a highlight of Umi no Hi celebrations. These parades feature a variety of ships, from historical vessels to modern naval ships, showcasing Japan’s rich maritime heritage. Maritime museums and aquariums often hold special exhibitions and events, educating the public about marine life and Japan’s naval history.


Sports and Recreational Activities

Water sports are another popular way to celebrate Marine Day. Activities such as surfing, paddleboarding, sailing, and swimming are enjoyed by people of all ages. Many communities organize sports events and competitions, fostering a sense of camaraderie and appreciation for the ocean.

Educational Programs

Schools and environmental organizations often use Umi no Hi as an opportunity to educate the public about marine conservation. Workshops, seminars, and interactive exhibits focus on issues such as pollution, overfishing, and climate change. These educational programs aim to inspire a new generation of ocean stewards committed to protecting Japan’s marine environments.

The Beginning of Summer

Umi no Hi also signals the beginning of summer in Japan, a season marked by numerous festivals and outdoor activities. The timing of Marine Day provides a perfect opportunity for families to start their summer vacations, enjoying Japan’s beautiful coastlines and engaging in recreational activities.

Summer Festivals (Matsuri)

Following Umi no Hi, the summer festival season kicks into high gear. Matsuri, or traditional festivals, take place across the country, featuring vibrant parades, traditional music and dance, food stalls, and fireworks displays. Some of the most famous summer festivals include the Gion Matsuri in Kyoto, Tenjin Matsuri in Osaka, and Nebuta Matsuri in Aomori.

hanabi fireworks

Hanabi (Fireworks) Festivals

Summer in Japan is also synonymous with hanabi taikai, or fireworks festivals. These spectacular displays light up the night skies, drawing large crowds. Fireworks festivals, such as the Sumida River Fireworks in Tokyo and the Nagaoka Fireworks Festival in Niigata, are major attractions, offering a dazzling array of colors and designs.

Outdoor Activities and Travel

With the arrival of summer, outdoor activities become immensely popular. Hiking, camping, and visits to national parks are common pursuits. Many people take advantage of the summer holidays to travel domestically, exploring Japan’s diverse landscapes, from the northern island of Hokkaido to the tropical beaches of Okinawa.

culinary delights summer in japan

Culinary Delights

Summer also brings a variety of seasonal foods that are eagerly anticipated. Popular summer treats include kakigori (shaved ice), somen (cold noodles), and a wide array of seafood dishes. Seasonal fruits like watermelon, peaches, and grapes are also enjoyed during this time.

The beginning of a season

Umi no Hi is more than just a celebration of the sea; it is a reflection of Japan’s enduring relationship with the ocean and a gateway to the vibrant summer season. The holiday serves as a reminder of the ocean's importance to Japan’s cultural and economic life, while also providing a chance for relaxation, recreation, and reflection. As people gather to celebrate Umi no Hi, they not only honor the sea but also embrace the joys of summer, creating memories that last a lifetime.

Previous article The Art and Craft of Japanese Knives
Next article The Fascinating World of Japanese Pet Cafes