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The Many Words for Holiday in Japan

The Japanese have a lot of different words for holidays, GaijinPot investigates some of the most common.

By 3 min read

One of the most interesting things about living in Japan is discovering the Japanese language’s many ways of saying the same thing. With Golden Week just around the corner, it’s a great time to learn more about all the different Japanese vocabulary associated with taking a break and going on vacation.

Take, for example, the word “holiday” in English. How many other words can you think of? How about doing the same in Japanese?


Learners must master the uses of words with similar meanings and subtle differences that distinguish them:

English Japanese Romaji
Festival day 祭日(さいじつ) saijitsu
Anniversary 記念日(きねんび) kinenbi
Break (やす) yasumi
Day off 休日(きゅうじつ) kyuujitsu
Official holiday 祝日(しゅくじつ) shukujitsu
~leave 休暇(きゅうか) kyuuka
Holiday 定休日(ていきゅうび) teikyubi
Free time (ひま) hima
Break (short time) 休憩(きゅうけい) kyuukei

A day to celebrate

Plan according to 祭日(さいじつ), and you won’t be sorry!

Some of them can be understood from their kanji (Chinese characters used in Japanese). So 祭日(さいじつ), for example, is made up of the kanji for “festival” and “day.” It is often used to describe national holidays, such as in the sentence 今度(こんど)祭日(さいじつ)日曜日(にちようび)(かさ)なります (the following holidays will be on a Sunday).

A similar word is 祝日(しゅくじつ) which is made up of the kanji for “celebration” and “day.” Most learners first encounter this word when talking about official holidays. It is often found paired with 国民(こくみん) (citizenry) to make 国民(こくみん)祝日(しゅくじつ) (national holiday).

A similar word to 国民の祝日 is 記念日(きねんび) which is used to describe a memorial anniversary or event. An everyday use of 記念日 is in the word 創立記念日(そうりつきねんび), which represents a holiday that celebrates the founding of a company or school. The incredibly long string of kanji 大阪大学創立記念日(おおさかだいがくそうりつきねんび) is the name of Osaka University’s founding day, for example.

Taking a “break”

A short break at work is called 休憩(きゅうけい)

While the kanji can give learners some insight, other differences depend more on formality. One of the kanji that has many variations is the holiday kanji (きゅう). The most common form of this verb is in (やす)み, which literally means a break in activity (usually a break from work). On the other hand, the similar-looking 休日(きゅうじつ) is roughly equivalent but usually found in formal or written situations.

Another word that uses the 休-kanji is 休暇(きゅうか). This word is usually found as a suffix and means “~leave.” So, combining it with 育児(いくじ) (childcare) creates the compound word 育児休暇(いくじ きゅうか) (childcare leave). Similarly, combining 休暇 with クリスマス makes クリスマス休暇 (Christmas leave).

While someone is on Christmas leave, you may see another 休-word 定休日(ていきゅうび) written on their workplace. 定休日 is usually used whenever a business is on holiday. This kanji is often written with the word 本日(ほんじつ) (today) to make 本日定休日(ほんじつていきゅうび) (we are on holiday today).

If the break is going to be shorter, 休憩(きゅうけい) is usually used instead. While this usually means a break for lunch or for a breather, be careful as in sentences like 休憩中(きゅうけいちゅう)そこに滞在(たいざい)した it becomes a way to say that someone is taking a vacation from work.

Free time

You can say いつお(ひま)ですか to ask someone if they are free to grab coffee with you.

Finally, (ひま) comes from free time, which can sometimes be an insult. For example, 暇なやつだ would be considered an insult, implying that someone has too much free time. Likewise, when you use いつお暇ですか, you are asking someone if they are free (to grab a coffee with you, for example).

Did you get all of them? Just to review, in this article we have looked at 祭日(さいじつ), 記念日(きねんび), (やす)み, 休日(きゅうじつ), 祝日(しゅくじつ), 休暇(きゅうか), 定休日(ていきゅうび), (ひま) and 休憩(きゅうけい).

While this may seem an unnecessary amount of words for similar things, English isn’t much better. The differences between breaks, vacations and holidays in English are enough to give English students a headache too. So much like English-language students, it is best to keep practicing them until their subtle differences become apparent.

Did we miss any other words? Let us know in the comments!

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